ROME — Erich Priebke, an unrepentant Nazi war criminal who was given a life sentence for his role in a World War II massacre in Rome, has died at the age of 100 in the Italian capital, his lawyer said Friday.
The former SS captain was extradited from Argentina in 1995 and eventually convicted by a military tribunal in Rome three years later for his role in the Fosse Ardeatine massacre, in which German soldiers shot to death 335 civilians on March 24, 1944.
“He died of old age and was lucid until the end,” lawyer Paolo Giachini said. The war criminal left behind a written interview and a video as “a human and political testament,” and praised the man’s “courage, coherence and loyalty.”
Priebke was due to be buried in the Argentinian town of Bariloche, where he lived before his extradition, alongside the grave of his wife, Giachini said.
Riccardo Pacifici, head of the Jewish community in Rome, said he struggled to call Priebke a “human being” because of his “inflexible” faith in Nazi ideology, which he maintained into old age.
“In all these years, we have never seen any sign of repentance,” Pacifici told the Rai News 24 broadcaster.
In a first Italian court ruling in 1996, Priebke was acquitted because of the statute of limitations had expired. That verdict was later canceled, after outrage from Jewish groups and relatives of the victims.
The former Nazi officer, who had turned 100 in July, was serving his life conviction under house arrest, on account of his advanced age.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which hunts Nazi war criminals, said Priebke’s longevity underscored the need to go after the “many” war criminals who were still alive.
“Many of them enjoy good health even in old age. Therefore they can and must be brought to trial,” the organization’s chief Nazi hunter and Israel director, Efraim Zuroff, told the German news agency dpa in Jerusalem.
The dead at Fosse Ardeatine, a cave on the outskirts of Rome, included 75 Jews and at least one child.
The massacre was thought to have been ordered by Adolf Hitler in response to the killing by Italian Resistance fighters of 33 German soldiers a day earlier.
In a 2003 interview to Italian state television RAI, Priebke described the Fosse Ardeatine massacre as “a personal tragedy” but did not ask for forgiveness to the victims. On other occasions, he repeated that he was simply following orders.
Pacifici spoke to Rai News 24 after an audience with Pope Francis in the Vatican, ahead of commemorations for the 60th anniversary of the deportation of Jews from Rome’s ghetto, which started on October 16, 1943.
“Clearly, it was a very strong counter-shock,” he said.
During the meeting, Francis evoked the “misunderstandings and even true grievances” between Catholics and Jews, and issued a stern warning: “A Christian cannot be anti-Semitic. Let Anti-Semitism be banished from the heart and life of every man and every woman.”