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Unrepentant until the end, Nazi war criminal Priebke dies in Italy at 100

AFP-JIJI

Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke died Friday in Rome at age 100 after serving nearly 15 years under house arrest for a World War II massacre in Italy for which he never expressed remorse.

Priebke was sentenced to life in prison in 1998 for his role in a bloodbath at Rome’s Ardeatine caves in March 1944 that left 335 people dead, including 75 Jews.

Because of his age and ill-health, he was allowed to serve out his life sentence at the home of his lawyer, Paolo Giachini.

He will be buried near his wife in Argentina, where he fled after the war, Giachini said.

However, officials in Buenos Aires said Argentina will not accept his remains.

“Foreign Minister Hector Timerman has given the order not to accept the slightest move to allow the return of the body of Nazi criminal Erich Priebke to our country,” the Foreign Ministry said. “Argentines will not accept this kind of affront to human dignity.”

Nicknamed the “Butcher of the Ardeatine caves,” Priebke always insisted that he had only ever obeyed orders.

“The order came directly from Hitler in Berlin,” he told the Italian military tribunal that staged his first trial in Rome in 1996. “Anyone who refused to obey would have been tried by the SS.”

The victims of the massacre were executed with a bullet to the neck, killed in retaliation for an attack by the resistance movement on SS soldiers.

At his appeal in 1998, Priebke again refused to repent for his actions. “If I could have stopped this horror, I would have. My death would not have allowed for those innocents to be saved,” he said, adding that he would not exchange his dignity for a “public display of repentance.”

Priebke managed, like so many Nazis, to escape to Argentina at the end of World War II, evading the 1948 trial in Rome of other perpetrators.

There he resumed his former profession of hotelier, living under his own name and becoming a respected member of the local German community.

He retained his German passport, even traveling to Italy, Germany and the United States.

He lived in Argentina for more than 40 years before being extradited to Italy in 1995, and every year on April 20 he and former comrades gathered to celebrate Hitler’s birthday.