THE funeral of convicted Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke was called off hours after it was supposed to have taken place yesterday amid noisy protests.
Priebke participated in the slaughter of 335 civilians at the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome, one of the worst massacres in German-occupied Italy during the Second World War.
Tensions have been high ever since Preibke died and left behind an interview in which he denied Jews were gassed in the Holocaust.
He spent nearly 50 years as a fugitive before being extradited to Italy from Argentina in 1995 to stand trial for the 1944 massacre. He died in the Rome home of Mr Giachini, where he had been serving his life term under house arrest.
Priebke admitted shooting two people and rounding up victims of the massacre, but insisted he was only following orders.
Shouting “murderer” and “executioner,” hundreds of people jeered as Priebke’s coffin arrived yesterday for the funeral Mass to be celebrated by a splinter Catholic group opposed to the Vatican’s outreach to Jews.
Protesters even heckled a priest arriving at the gates, yelling “shame”. One woman fainted.
But Priebke’s lawyer, Paolo Giachini, told reporters the funeral did not take place “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.”
They included Priebke’s son Ingo, other lawyers in Mr Giachini’s firm, and some younger, right-wing sympathisers, Mr Giachini said.
“They were there for a religious ceremony. They didn’t have banners or other political manifestations,” he said.
The casket remained inside and Mr Giachini said he did not know what would happen next.
He said he was turning over responsibility for future decisions to the family and expressed disappointment at the “indignities” that prevented the ceremony.
Since Priebke’s death on Friday aged 100, debate has raged over what to do with his remains.
Pope Francis’ vicar for Rome refused him a funeral in a Catholic Church and Rome’s police chief backed him up, citing concerns for public order.
No one appeared ready to handle Priebke’s service, until the Society of St. Pius X in the city of Albano Laziale south of Rome stepped forward to celebrate the funeral Mass.
The society, known for the anti-Semitic views of some of its members, celebrates the pre-Vatican II old Latin Mass. Where Priebke will be buried remains unresolved.
One of the society’s disgraced members is Bishop Richard Williamson, who made headlines in 2009 when he denied that any Jews were killed in gas chambers during the Holocaust.
Priebke espoused the same views. In a final interview released by his lawyer upon his death, Priebke denied the Nazis gassed Jews and accused the West of inventing such crimes to cover up atrocities committed by the Allies during the war.
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the roundup of Jews from Rome’s ghetto for the Auschwitz concentration camp.