Cremation calls as Nazi's body sparks anger in Rome

Cremation calls as Nazi's body sparks anger in Rome
Former German Nazi SS officer Erich Priebke waves to the members of the media as he boards a plane to be extradited to Italy to face a war crimes trial, in Bariloche, southern Argentina in this November 20, 1995 file photo.

ROME - The death in Rome of a Nazi war criminal has sparked a furore after the Vatican banned a church funeral, Argentina refused the body and relatives of his victims called for him to be cremated.

Erich Priebke, who was found guilty of a 1944 massacre in Rome and had been living under house arrest in the city, died last week aged 100.

As his body lies in a Rome hospital morgue, debate rages over what to do with the mortal remains of a man who never expressed any regret, insisting to the end that he was just following orders.

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which hunts Nazis around the world, said the body should be sent back to his native Germany which has laws that would prevent a neo-Nazi gathering.

Tensions are running particularly high ahead of the 70th anniversary of the deportation of thousands of Jews from Rome's ancient Jewish Ghetto by Nazi troops on October 16, 1943.

There is concern that any ceremony could draw far-right sympathisers after a group tried to lay flowers at the house where he died and a scrawl reading "Honour to Priebke" next to a black swastika symbol appeared on a wall nearby.

Priebke's lawyer Paolo Giachini had initially said that the former SS officer would be buried near his wife in Argentina, where he lived for 40 years after the war - but Argentina refused.

Rome religious authorities have also said there can be no church funeral for him in the city.

Giachini on Monday threatened to hold a ceremony in Rome's Villa Borghese park, or "in the street if the church will not agree to hold a funeral".

"His children want him to have a Catholic funeral. They want the wishes of their father, who was always a Christian man, to be respected," he said.

"The age of the catacombs is over. You cannot ban or hide a funeral, it is a right."

After the war, Priebke escaped from a British POW camp and was supplied with Vatican travel documents by a Catholic bishop.

He lived for nearly 50 years in Argentina, before being arrested in 1994 and then extradited to Italy in 1996 for trial.

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