Argentine officials were reportedly prepared this week to turn former SS Captain Erich Priebke over to Italy, which has requested his extradition to stand trial for war crimes.
Argentine President Carlos Menem told reporters that if Italy’s extradition request was in order, Priebke would be sent there immediately.
Priebke, 81, has been under house arrest at his home in the Andean resort of San Carlos di Bariloche since an Italian military court issued a warrant for his arrest on Monday.
The former Nazi officer has admitted to taking part in a March 1944 massacre of 335 Italians outside Rome. The massacre was ordered by the Germans in reprisal for a partisan attack that killed 33 Nazi stormtroopers.
The massacre is considered the worst war crime to have taken place on Italian soil and has become the country’s chief symbol of Nazi brutality for Italians, and particularly for Italian Jews.
Priebke was the deputy to Herbert Kappler, the Gestapo chief during the Nazi occupation of Rome. In an interview Sunday on Italian television he called the massacre “a hard but just reprisal.”
Italy initiated the paperwork necessary for extradition over the weekend following an ABC Television program, “PrimeTime Live,” broadcast last Thursday in the United States, in which Priebke admitted to partaking in the killings.
Priebke has been living in Argentina without concealing his identity since 1948.
In an interview published Tuesday in the Rome daily La Repubblica, he said he and four others escaped the prison camp near the Italian Adriatic coastal town of Rimini on Dec. 31, 1946.
With the help of a Franciscan friar, he said, he and his family lived for two years in Italy. When they decided to leave Italy on an Italian cargo ship, he said he got help from the Vatican, “which got word to me through Bishop Alois Hudal that it was prepared to help me.”
He said the family traveled to Argentina on Red Cross passports and that “the Vatican probably had a network of convents and monasteries where it could hide people, but it also has to be said that the Vatican helped everybody, Jews as well, and not just us Germans.”
After the war, Priebke was found guilty of the Ardeatine Caves massacre by an Italian military tribunal and sentenced to life in prison.
As a result of the Priebke case, Argentina’s leading Jewish organization demanded their government establish laws to bring to justice Nazi war criminals who have lived there for decades.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.