An Argentine researcher and journalist said he feels “a strong sense of relief” after a three-year battle in Italian courts ended with a Nazi war criminal’s lawsuit against him being thrown out.
Uki Goni was referring to a Milan court’s March 23 decision to reject a claim by convicted Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke, who had sued Goni and his Italian publisher for 50,000 euros — more than $67,000 — for libel. The court not only tossed out Priebke’s claim as unfounded but assessed him legal costs of nearly $11,000.
“What’s really important about this verdict is that historians and journalists can once again feel free to publish their findings,” Goni told JTA from his home in Buenos Aires.
Priebke is known for filing lawsuits, and Italian newspapers and magazines rejected many other articles for fear of being sued by Priebke or his lawyer, Lorenzo Borre, Goni said.
Priebke was discovered in 1995 living in Bariloche, a city in Argentina’s western Andes Mountains, by an ABC-TV team of reporter Sam Donaldson and producers Harry Phillips and Delilah Herbst.
He was deported to Italy, where he was found responsible for the deaths of 335 people in what has come to be known as the Ardeatine Caves Massacre. Priebke and a group of SS officers rounded up Jews and Italian partisans in Rome, led them to the caves outside the city, and shot and killed them with bullets to the back of the neck.
Priebke was given a life sentence, which he has been serving under house arrest in the home of his attorney, Borre. He has become an assiduous reader of articles about himself, and he and Borre have become infamous for their spate of lawsuits.
“Even the threat of a lawsuit made a lot of publications nervous, and journalists shied away from the subject of the cave massacre and other matters involving the SS in Italy during the war,” claims Goni, who has written a number of books investigating the connection among former Argentine President Juan Peron, the Vatican and the hundreds of Nazi war criminals fleeing postwar Europe who found safe haven in Argentina and neighboring countries.
In the most recent suit, Priebke sought not only monetary damages but a ban on Goni s most recent book, “The Real Odessa,” published in English by Granta Books of London and later by Italian publisher Garzanti Libri as “Operazione Odessa.”
While the book mentions him only in passing, Priebke claimed it wrongly accused him of torturing people in the Gestapo s Rome headquarters, of participating in the selection of Jews to be sent to their death at the Ardeatine Caves and of acknowledging that he escaped justice when he fled to Argentina.
The Milan court ruled that Priebke’s first two claims were unfounded due to evidence at the trial at which he was given the life sentence. The third charge was rejected due to evidence Goni provided of Priebke s entry papers to Argentina.
“He entered the country under a false name, Otto Pate, using a Red Cross passport and under the auspices of the Vatican’s pontifical commission,” Goni said. “If he did all that to hide his real identity, taking the same path as so many other war criminals, it was obvious that he was escaping as a war criminal.”
Priebke can appeal to Italy’s Supreme Court, but Goni said that was highly unlikely.
“The Milan court was so strong in its verdict that it would seem foolish for anyone to take the case to the supreme court,” Goni said. “Priebke is claiming he is destitute and can t pay” the nearly $11,000 the court is demanding, “so it would seem highly risky for him to appeal the case.”