One of the world’s last remaining Nazi war criminals, former Nazi SS captain Erich Priebke, has died at the age of 100 in Rome, according to reports in Italian media. Priebke was convicted in connection with his role in the mass killing of 335 Italian men and boys, including 75 Jews, at the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome in March 1944 -- a reprisal reportedly ordered by Adolf Hitler himself as revenge for the killing of 33 German soldiers by Italian partisans. The victims were bound and shot in the back of their heads and necks.
For that atrocity Priebke was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998 -- however, due to his advanced age and ill health he was permitted to live under house arrest on the top floor of an apartment in the center of Rome (a flat incidentally owned by his attorney, Paolo Giachini). Jewish groups, relatives of the massacre’s victims and others were outraged by Priebke’s relatively comfortable and lenient “sentence” and also cited that he never expressed any remorse for the murders. Like many other Nazis, Priebke merely maintained that he was “following orders.” "Yes I was there," he said in court. "But that was a thing that was ordered by our [commanders]. An order was an order ... I had to carry it out."
An attorney for the massacre victims’ families named Sebastiano di Lascio condemned Priebke’s blasé attitude. "We never heard, from his mouth or through his lawyers, that he was saying sorry," di Lascio said. "He could have said 'I was 20 years old, I was young, I wouldn't do it again.’ But we never, ever heard words or saw gestures of regret."
According to media reports, Priebke lived quietly in his final years and was allowed to come and go as he pleased (with an escort) to grocery stores, cafes and restaurants like any other pensioner. "Jewish Rome, and the whole of the city, can't allow this character [Priebke] to go around his neighborhood... do his food shopping, and enjoy privileges,” thundered a Jewish activist named Angelo Sermoneta earlier this summer. "He is 100 years old. There is no need to hurt him. We're not saying he should face the guillotine, the gas chamber or the electric chair. But if only he was [confined] at home and didn't make himself seen! He awakes in others memories of the evil that he did. And only those who suffered that evil in their lives can understand it."
Priebke was working as a teacher in Argentina (the landing spot for many other German Nazis) before his extradition to Italy in 1998. BBC reported that Priebke’s attorney, Paolo Giachini, claimed his client left behind a video as a form of “testimony,” but its contents are as of yet unknown. Giachini also alleged that, based on written statements from the mid 1990s (prior to his arrest and conviction), Priebke had expressed his "profound solidarity" with the victims of the 1944 massacre. "Our judicial system does not take asking for forgiveness into consideration," Giachini added. "Personal opinions don't count."
Giachini also has reportedly declared that he decided to represent Priebke because he felt the ex-Nazi was being prosecuted for “political” reasons. In March 2004, Priebke’s wife, Alice Stoll even led a public rally in Rome demanding her husband’s pardon and release from house arrest.
The site of the 1944 massacre, the Ardeatine Caves, is now a Memorial Cemetery and National Monument. The slaughter is commemorated every year on the anniversary in a ceremony attended by top government officials and sometimes by the pope.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.