It has been four days since Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke died at the age of 100 in Rome, but it is still unclear where his remains will be laid to rest. Italy, Argentina, and Germany have all expressed strong opposition to burying the vocally unrepentant former SS captain, who had been living under house arrest in Rome since his extradition from Argentina in 1995.
Priebke's birthplace -- the town of Henningsdorf, northwest of Berlin -- became the latest locale to reject Priebke's body, the German daily Bild reported Monday. "We would refuse a burial for Priebke," a spokesperson for Henningsdorf said, citing local laws that stipulate that only residents and those that die in the city may be buried there. "Separately, we have no interest in burying a war criminal here," added the spokesperson, according to the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper.
Moreover, if Priebke is buried in Henningsdorf, it could transform the town into a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis, warned a commentary in the German daily Tagesspiegel. Last year, a member of the far-right National Democratic Party posted a birthday announcement for Priebke in a local Henningsdorf newspaper, prompting 30 to 50 masked neo-Nazis dressed in black to hold a march through town the following day.
For its part, the German government said it had not received an official request from Italy to have Priebke buried in Germany. "It is also not for the German government to decide where and what kind of burial Priebke will have," foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer told the Berliner Morgenpost. "It is fundamentally a decision for the immediate family."
The decision by Henningsdorf comes a day after the leader of Rome's Jewish community insisted that burial in Priebke's birthplace was the most viable option. "There is only one solution -- logic demands that he return to the country where he was born, that he return to Germany and be buried in the town where he was born," Riccardo Pacifici told German news agency DPA.
No Church Funeral
However Pacifici suggested an alternative, if burial in Henningsdorf proved impossible. "Perhaps we should do what the Americans do with some characters -- cremate them and disperse their ashes at sea," he said. Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a US-based Jewish human rights organization, made a similar recommendation. "The best thing would be to send the body back to Germany for it to be incinerated. That would be the most efficient way to leave no trace of a Nazi criminal like Priebke," Zuroff told the Italian daily La Stampa.
The mayor of Rome confirmed yesterday that he would not permit Priebke to be buried in the Italian capital, while the Roman Catholic Church said it would not permit a church funeral for the Nazi, a practicing Catholic. The city of Pomezia also ruled out a burial for Priebke at a German military cemetery located there.
In 1998, Italian authorities convicted Priebke for his role in the 1944 murder of 335 Italian civilians, including 75 Jews, in Rome's Ardeatine caves. The massacre was apparently ordered by Hitler in response to a partisan bomb attack that killed 33 SS police officers in Rome. Priebke never apologized for his role in the massacre and denied the full extent of the Holocaust.
On Monday Priebke's son, Jorge, expressed anger at the widespread opposition to burying his father. "Where should my father be buried? For me, even Israel would be good," he told the Italian news agency ANSA.
Meanwhile, the vicar of Rome confirmed that the Church would be willing to offer a small prayer service for Priebke in his home in Rome either Wednesday or Thursday of this week, the Italian daily La Republicca reported. The Church's offer, which does not directly address the issue of disposing with Priebke's body, was rejected by Priebke's lawyer as "viltà del clero," or "clerical cowardice."