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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Executing Italians Civilians Was ‘Terrible’ for the Executioners, Nazi Said Before Death

An Italian-language video interview with Erich Priebke, a convicted Nazi war criminal who died under house arrest in Rome last week, provided to the Italian news agency AGI by his lawyer.

As officials in Italy continue to search for a solution to the problem of where to bury the body of Erich Priebke, a former SS captain who died in Rome last week under house arrest, the voice of the unrepentant Nazi was heard in a video interview released on Thursday by his lawyer.

Reflecting on his life in the undated interview, Priebke said that the wartime massacre of 335 Italian civilians by his unit in 1944 â€" a reprisal for the killing of 33 SS officers by partisans in Rome â€" was “a terrible thing for us to have to do.” According to the German, who lived openly in Argentina for five decades after the war before being returned to Italy to face justice in the 1990s, the fault lay with the partisans. “They carried out the attack knowing there would be retaliation,” he said. “They thought a retaliation by us would trigger a revolution.”

Asked why he had not disobeyed the order, Priebke claimed “it was impossible,” because a fellow officer said that any dissenters would be shot. “Before starting the retaliation,” he recalled, the officer, “told everybody that those were Hitler’s orders, and we had to execute them. Anybody who didn’t want to do that would have had to line up with the victims to be executed, too.”

Priebke’s insistence in what his lawyer called a “video testament” that he was only following orders echoed the on-camera explanation he gave to Sam Donaldson in 1994, when an ABC News crew discovered him living in Argentina, under his own name. “That was our order,” he said in English. “You know in the war, that kind of thing happened.”

An ABC News interview with Erich Priebke, a former SS officer who took part in a wartime massacre of Italian civilians, when he was discovered living in Argentina in 1994.

As my colleague Elisabetta Povoledo reported, almost a week after Priebke’s death at 100, the question of how to dispose of his remains remains unresolved, after various cities in Italy, Germany and Argentina, where he lived for decades, declined to offer a final resting place.

The Italian government denied on Thursday that the secret services were involved in moving the body to a military airport in Rome on Wednesday, after a funeral was halted the day before following fierce protests and clashes in a town just 12 miles from the site of the massacre.