Protest in Rome against Nazi 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Yara Nardi)
ROME – The 100th birthday of unrepentant Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke on
Monday sparked a vocal protest outside the Rome apartment where the former SS
captain has been under house arrest for the last 15 years.
Priebke’s legal team and a few friends – one carrying a bottle of champagne –
had to work their way through a crowd of more than 200 demonstrators, police
officers and journalists in order to enter the apartment for what appeared to be
a small birthday celebration.
Protesters called for the conditions of
Priebke’s arrest to be toughened and for authorities to force him to show
remorse for his crimes. They read out loud the names of the 335 Italian
civilians Priebke is charged with killing in 1944 in retaliation for a bombing
by Italian partisans that killed 33 soldiers from an SS battalion in northern
Throughout the protest, there was no movement from inside
Priebke’s apartment, located in a working-class neighborhood just west of the
Vatican City walls.
“Considering what this man has done, there is no
reason he should be treated so leniently,” said Barbara Pontecorvo, a
44-year-old lawyer and a member of the Jewish community in
“Small-time criminals in Italy are treated much harsher than he
Tomer Kling, a 37-year-old musician visiting Rome from Tel Aviv
said, “I came here to demonstrate because we have to remember the horror of what
happened so that it can never happen again.”
The massacre of the 335
civilians took place on March 24, 1944, near the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome.
Adolf Hitler is reported to have ordered 10 Italians killed for every dead
German, and so a list of 330 Italian resistance members, including at least 70
Jews, was drawn up. The prisoners were taken to the caves by Priebke and Karl
Haas, another SS officer, and shot in groups of five.
In his trial,
Priebke, who checked the names of the men off the list as they were being
killed, said he was following orders from Berlin and should not be held
responsible for the decisions made by his superiors. That argument drew
attention to the five extra people killed as proof that Priebke went beyond what
he was ordered to do. It was also alleged that he may have pulled the trigger
himself in at least two cases.
After the war, the former SS captain
escaped from a British prison camp and eventually fled to Argentina, where he
lived freely for 50 years. But after a 1994 high-profile television interview
with US news program Primetime Live in which he showed little remorse for his
actions during the war, efforts to extradite Priebke to Italy began to gain
momentum. After several delays, he was forced to return to Italy in 1994, where
he stood trial and was found not guilty two years later.
demonstrations sparked an appeal from prosecutors, Priebke was retried in 1998
and sentenced to life imprisonment, as was Haas, who died in 2004.
result of an Italian law stating that convicted criminals over the age of 80 are
to be sentenced to house arrest rather than prison, Priebke was ordered to be
confined to his apartment for the rest of his life.
At least one
shopkeeper in the area said during an interview on Monday that Priebke sometimes
left his apartment to shop nearby, though not recently.
protesters blasted the Italian government for what they said were cushy
conditions for Priebke’s house arrest, others called on him to repent for his
actions – something he has never done.
“The orders were that 10 Italians
had to die for every German death,” Priebke told American journalist Sam
Donaldson in the Primetime Live interview. “Some were civilians but they were
mostly terrorists. When there is a war, you must follow orders.”