Hundreds protest at funeral of Nazi war criminal

Protesters surround the hearse carrying Erich Priebke's coffin (Photo: AP)

Protesters surround the hearse carrying Erich Priebke's coffin (Photo: AP)

The funeral of a Nazi war criminal was cancelled at the last minute in Italy yesterday, after protesters broke into the compound where the ceremony was taking place.

More than 500 people took to the streets of the town Albano Laziale in central Italy to prevent the burial of Erich Priebke, shouting “executioner” and “murderer” as the coffin was transported to the Society of St Pius X seminary.

The former German SS officer died on Friday aged 100. He had been serving a life sentence under house arrest in Rome for his role in killing more than 300 Italian civilians in 1944 under Hitler’s instruction.

Following his death last week, the Vatican issued a ban on any Catholic church in Rome holding his funeral.

The government in Argentina, where Priebke had escaped after the war, also refused to bury him, as did his hometown of Hennisgsdorf near Berlin.

But the schismatic Society of St Pius X offered to hold the ceremony, ignoring local outrage and protest.

The Catholic conservative group broke off from the Vatican in 1970 after opposing its reforms.

It has often been accused of having far-right, antisemitic views, and caused international furore in 2009 when one of its bishops, Richard Williamson, claimed that the Nazis did not use gas chambers and killed less than 300,000 Jews.

Priebke was deported from Argentina to Italy in 1944 after admitting his role in the war. He claimed he had followed Hitler’s orders against “terrorists” and apologised for his actions.

The debate continues over what to do with his body.

Last updated: 8:39am, October 16 2013