Burial of war criminal Priebke becomes saga
Reports of return to Germany denied as body moved to airport16 October, 20:05
(ANSA) - Rome, October 16 - Confusion over the fate of SS war criminal Erich Priebke's body continued on Wednesday amid conflicting reports he might return to Germany after his funeral in a town near Rome was abandoned Tuesday amid scuffles between residents and neo-Nazis.
Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino said the city was in talks with the German authorities over what to do with the body of Priebke, who died aged 100 at his Rome home Friday while serving life for his part in a 1944 massacre of 335 Roman men and boys including 75 Jews, a reprisal against a partisan attack that killed 33 German soldiers.
But, while the body was taken to a Rome military airport, sources at the German embassy denied having received a formal request from officials from the Rome council or the Italian government. The German government said it was Italy's responsibility to solve the problem of what should happen to Priebke's body.
"Taking care of the deceased is the responsibility of the State where the person died," said German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer, adding that Berlin had "no role" in the affair.
However, he added that Priebke had the right to be buried in Germany, like any other German. But Schaefer stressed that "the management of the bodies of Germans abroad concerns the relatives (of the deceased)".
There had been some "informal contact", the spokesman said.
A German regional official said there was a possibility Priebke could be buried in his home town so long as his grave was not marked to avoid creating a rallying point for far-right extremists.
An unmarked grave is the only option, to avoid the SS officer's tomb becoming a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis, Ralf Holzschuher, interior minister for the region of Brandenburg where Priebke's home town of Hennigsdorf is located, told a local newspaper.
The funeral of the unrepentant former SS officer was abandoned at the in the town of Albano Laziale on Tuesday following clashes between protestors and far-right extremists.
Rome city and church authorities had previously refused to allowed the German's funeral to take place in the capital and the corpse has been taken to a military airport at Pratica di Mare, just outside the Italian capital, for public-order reasons. "The prefect of Rome and the Italian government are in talks with the German embassy in Rome (to seek a solution)," said Marino, adding that the capital could not accept hosting the funeral of an executioner.
Rome Prefect Giuseppe Pecoraro also said contact had been made with the German authorities, adding he was confident the situation would be solved on Wednesday, before the German embassy denied receiving a request. Priebke's place of birth, Hennigsdorf, located about 20 km northwest of Berlin, had earlier said it would not accept the body for burial.
The funeral was meant to be held on Tuesday at the Italian headquarters of Swiss-based controversial breakaway ultra-traditionalist Catholic body, the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) or Lefebvrians, who are against the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and have been associated with anti-Semitic stances as well as Holocaust denial by two members who were subsequently ejected.
A far-right extremist gave a Fascist salute as Priebke supporters clashed with protesters shouted ''murderer'' outside St. Pius X church in Albano Laziale after the town's mayor had unsuccessfully sought to stop the coffin arriving. Police separated the two sides and one demonstrator fainted amidst the turmoil as some tried to attack a Lefebvrian priest who struggled to enter the church as the crowd jostled and jeered at him. The hearse carrying the coffin was damaged after rocks and firecrackers were thrown at it and protesters hammered it with fists.
Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said "memories must not be cancelled but hysteria of various kinds do not help".