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Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke dies at 100

Erich Priebke, a former SS officer sentenced to life in prison for his role in a 1944 massacre in Rome, died on Friday at age 100, Italian news reports said.


Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke died Friday in Rome aged 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, who told AFP the former SS captain had "died aged 100".

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

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 which 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, which he described as "a horrible thing, a personal tragedy".

"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 travelling 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.

In April 2011, the Italian magazine Oggi sparked a scandal with photographs showing the former Nazi officer dining at a restaurant with friends, riding a motorbike and shopping at a supermarket.

Priebke joined the Nazi party in his native Germany soon after Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, and became a policeman. The following year he joined the SS, the elite military unit of the Nazi party.

He was posted to Italy in 1943 as a deputy to the SS chief in Rome, Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Kappler, who was to be jailed for life after the war for his own role in the executions.

Soon after the Ardeatine caves massacre Priebke was ordered to Verona, then appointed head of security in Brescia, where according to resistance fighters he commanded round-ups which resulted in executions.

Priebke's death sparked an angry reaction from Italy's Jewish community whose leader, Riccardo Pacifici, said the war criminal would have to account for his actions in the next life.

"He never confessed the sins of his youth... never took pity on his victims or their families," said Pacifici.


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