Italian Jews praise protests at Nazi funeral

Recently deceased Nazi Priebke overshadows ceremonies meant to commemorate 70th anniversary of deportation of more than a thousand Jews from Rome.

By ERIC J. LYMAN, SPECIAL TO THE JERUSALEM POST
October 16, 2013 21:47
3 minute read.
ANTI-FASCIST demonstrators shout as the hearse carrying Nazi war criminal Priebke passes near Rome

Italians protest Nazi funeral 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

ROME – Riccardo Pacifici, president of the Jewish community of Rome, forcefully praised protests on Wednesday surrounding the funeral plans of a Nazi war criminal who died in the city five days earlier.

The presidents’ words caused a shift in focus during ceremonies meant to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the deportation of more than a thousand Jews from the Italian capital.

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The day’s activities were meant to be marked by a brief appearance by one of the two remaining survivors of the tragic roundup, a visit to Rome’s main synagogue from Italy’s head of state and a special prayer to mark the occasion from Pope Francis. But all that was over shadowed by the continuing controversy over the burial of Erich Priebke, the Nazi war criminal who died in Rome Friday, aged 100.

Rome’s Great Synagogue was packed for solemn commemoration ceremonies attended by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino, Israeli Ambassador Naor Gilon, the leadership of local Jewish communities and Enzo Camerino, aged 85, and one of only two remaining survivors from the mass deportation on October 16, 1943.

Almost every speaker spoke of Priebke, though none said his name. The former SS captain was convicted of war crimes in 1998 for his part in the killings of 335 Italians – including at least 70 Jews – in 1944. He had been held under house arrest in Rome for the last 15 years and after he died Friday churches in the city refused to host his funeral. Government officials in Rome also refused to hold his funeral as did Priebke’s adopted home of Argentina and the town of his birth, Henninsdorf, in Germany.

Late Tuesday, a breakaway Catholic group, the Catholic Society of St. Pius, best known as SSPX, said it would conduct his funeral in Albano Laziale, a town just outside of Rome. But the plans were dashed after protesters, who blocked the path to the small church picked for the funeral, kicked and rocked the car carrying Priebke’s remains until it reversed course. Priebke’s body now lies in a military airport near Rome and will stay there until an alternative plan can be worked out.

In the synagogue, Riccardo Pacifici sparked strong applause from the crowd by praising the protesters and Albano Laziale’s mayor, who took steps to block the funeral.



“For this,” Pacifici said, “we can be proud to be Romans.”

Renzo Gattegna, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, rued the fact that Priebke managed to cast a shadow over the anniversary even in death: “I do not wish to even utter his name, so as not to profane this sacred day,” he said.

The ceremony was to mark the anniversary of the deportation of 1,023 Roman Jews in a single day. Of that number, only 16 returned to Rome after the war and of them only two are still alive: Camerino and Lello Di Segni, now 87. They were teenagers when the deportation took place and both are now frail.

Only Camerino appeared at the ceremony and he did not speak. But his silent appearance was one of the highlights, and the commemoration’s highprofile guests all greeted him afterwards with great warmth.

Accounts say that it was raining early on October 16, 1943 when the Nazi soldiers – freshly in charge of Rome after Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime was toppled less than three months earlier – began bursting into homes and dragging off Jewish residents of the city.

Today, small bronze markers cemented into the pavement in the streets outside identify those homes, and the date remains the most important local anniversary of the calendar of Roman Jews. Indeed, a street outside Rome’s main synagogue is named “Largo 16 Ottobre 1943” to mark the date that Marino, Rome’s mayor, said the city’s residents “should vow to never forget.”


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