(JTA) – Protests forced the suspension of the funeral of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke near Rome.
On Tuesday, hundreds of protesters clashed with neo-Nazi sympathizers who tried to join the private ceremony organized by a fringe Catholic group, the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), in the town of Albano Laziale.
As of the following morning, Priebke’s body was being held at a local military airport, with no final decision as to where he would be buried.
Priebke’s lawyer told The Associated Press that he called off the ceremony “because authorities did not allow people to enter who wanted to come in. Everything was ready. We were waiting for those who should have arrived to participate.”
Priebke died last week at 100 in Rome, where he was serving a life sentence under house arrest for his involvement in the March 1944 massacre of 335 Romans, including about 75 Jews. Rome officials had barred a public funeral in Rome, and the Roman Catholic Church leadership in Rome had barred a ceremony for Priebke in a Roman church.
The SSPX released a statement saying it had agreed to organize a funeral for Priebke at the family’s request because “no matter what the guilt or sins,” every Christian “has the right to celebrate Mass and a funeral.” The society, some of whose members have denied the Holocaust and made anti-Semitic statements, added, “We hereby reiterate our rejection of all forms of anti-Semitism and racial hatred but also of hatred in all its forms.”
Meanwhile, Rome Jews marked the 70th anniversary of the roundup and deportation to Auschwitz of more than 1,000 of the city’s Jews. President Giorgio Napolitano and senior Italian officials attended the ceremony on Wednesday at Rome’s great synagogue.
The president of the Rome Jewish community, Riccardo Pacifici, saying he did not want to pronounce Priebke’s name in the synagogue, praised Rome’s mayor, Church officials and the protesters in Albano Laziale for their stance.
“We are proud to be Romans and Italians, to see civil society on the front line in this battle for civilization,” he said.
Only 16 Jews survived the 1943 roundup and deportation.