ROME, March 24 (JTA) — Italy this week marked the 53rd anniversary of the Nazi massacre of 335 men and boys at the Ardeatine Caves south of Rome. The victims, who included about 75 Jews, were ordered killed by the Nazis in reprisal for an Italian partisan attack that left 33 German soldiers dead. The site of the March 24, 1944, massacre has become a national shrine, and the anniversary is commemorated every year by the state. Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and other government figures, Rome Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff, Roman Catholic leaders, and representatives of families of the victims paid homage to the victims in Monday’s ceremony. The anniversary came just three days after former SS Captain Erich Priebke, awaiting a retrial for involvement in the massacre, was moved to house arrest in a Roman Catholic monastery near Rome after 16 months in jail. A military court in Rome last week agreed to a defense request that Priebke, 83, be transferred from prison on grounds of deteriorating health. “We have no intention of expressing ourselves on matters of human justice,” a statement from the San Bonaventura monastery in the town of Frascati said. “We have been asked to provide simple hospitality for a detainee. We wish to receive the man in the spirit of sacred hospitality which the Scriptures teach us.” Priebke was extradited to Italy from Argentina, where he had lived for nearly half a century, in November 1995 to stand trial for participation in the Ardeatine Caves massacre. A military court last summer found him guilty of taking part in what is considered to be the worst Nazi atrocity carried out in Italy, but ordered him freed because of extenuating circumstances, including a statute of limitations. The verdict caused an uproar and Priebke was rearrested. An appeals court in October annulled the verdict and ordered a new trial, which is expected to begin next month. Former SS Maj. Karl Hass, who is also under house arrest, will also be tried on the same charges.
Priebke relocated to monastery on eve of massacre anniversary