The funeral of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke was called off at the last minute Tuesday by his lawyer after he said police prevented friends and family from attending amid a noisy protest against the planned memorial.
Shouting “murderer” and “executioner,” hundreds of people jeered as Priebke’s coffin arrived for the funeral ceremony to be conducted by a splinter Catholic group opposed to the Vatican’s outreach to Jews.
Priebke’s lawyer, Paolo Giachini, told The Associated Press the funeral did not take place ‘’because authorities did not allow people to enter who wanted to come in.”
Since Priebke’s death on Friday at age 100, debate has raged over what to do with his remains. Pope Francis’ vicar for Rome refused him a funeral in a Catholic Church, and Rome’s police chief backed him up.
Priebke participated in one of the worst massacres in German-occupied Italy during World War II, the slaughter of 335 civilians at the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome. Tensions have been high since he died and left behind an interview in which he denied Jews were gassed in the Holocaust.
No one appeared ready to handle his service, until, in a surreal twist, the schismatic Society of St. Pius X in the city of Albano Laziale stepped forward. The society is known for the anti-Semitic views of some of its members.
As the hearse arrived outside the society’s walled compound, people in the crowd slammed their fists and umbrellas on the car and shouted “We are all anti-fascist!” and “Priebke, murderer!” One woman fainted. Giachini said friends and family wanted to enter, but police wouldn’t allow them in.
“Everything was ready. We were waiting for those who should have arrived,” he said.
The society was formed in 1969, opposed to the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, particularly its outreach to Jews. One of its disgraced members is Bishop Richard Williamson, who made headlines in 2009 when he denied that any Jews were killed in gas chambers during the Holocaust.
Priebke espoused the same views. In a final interview released by his lawyer upon his death, Priebke denied the Nazis gassed Jews and accused the West of inventing such crimes to cover up atrocities committed by the Allies during World War II.
Once word spread that the society would conduct the funeral, the mayor of Albano Laziale issued an ordinance trying to block the coffin from arriving but said he was overruled by the government prefect. Deputy Mayor Maurizio Sementelli said one of the reasons for the outrage was that one of the victims of the massacre was from Albano.
Priebke spent nearly 50 years as a fugitive before being extradited to Italy from Argentina in 1995 to stand trial for the 1944 massacre. He had been serving his life term under house arrest.