Argentine officials have promised to extradite to Italy this month a former Nazi SS captain involved in the massacre of 335 Italian civilians.
President Carlos Menem assured Tommy Baer, president of B’nai B’rith International, in a meeting Monday that 82-year old Erich Priebke would be “on his way to Italy by the end of the month,” a spokesman for Baer said.
Baer was on Argentina as part of a weeklong trip to South America.
Italian news reports quoted a spokesman for Menem as saying the March deadline was “very probably.”
Priebke was tracked down in Argentina last year during an investigation by ABC Television’s “PrimeTime Live.” After the program, officials placed Priebke under house arrest and the Italian government began extradition proceedings.
In his interview with ABC, Priebke admitted that he had a role in the 1944 executions in the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome.
The massacre was in response to the killing of 32 Nazi soldiers in Italy. Priebke has said he was following Adolf Hitler’s orders to kill 10 Italian civilians for every soldier. Of the 335 Italians, 75 were Jewish.
The Argentine Supreme Court is handling the case and its president, Ricado Lebene, told Baer that the issue would be resolved by the end of the month.
“We appreciate the role of the Argentinian government in removing obstacles to the speedy extradition of Priebke,” Baer said. “We shall continue to monitor the situation until this war criminal has been brought to justice in Italy for his heinous crime.”
Priebke’s lawyer has tried to slow the proceedings by requesting that all documents be translated from German to Spanish.
Still observers are pleased with recent developments.
“We’re very pleased that the case is at the Supreme Court, and we hope that President Menem is right,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
After the war, tens of thousands of Nazis and their collaborators fled to SouthAmerica, primarily Argentina and Chile, Cooper said.
The Wiesenthal Center knows of at least 10 other suspected Nazi criminals living in Argentina today, he added.
Argentina has reportedly received about a dozen extradition requests for Nazi criminals since 1950.
Three have been granted, the last one in 1990, when Josef Schwammberger was sent to Germany and sentenced to life in prison for the murders of Jews at Polish labor camps.