Former Nazi Officer Admits Witnessing Massacre of 335 Italians
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ A former Nazi officer living under his own name in Argentina for nearly 50 years has admitted being present at the massacre of 335 Italian civilians during World War II.
Former SS Capt. Erich Priebke, 80, told Argentine media he was following orders from Adolf Hitler in connection with the execution of Italians in the Ardeatine Caves near Rome on March 24, 1944.
The massacre was in reprisal for the killing of 32 German soldiers by Italian partisans in Nazi-occupied Rome.
″Later, the order came from Berlin to kill 10 Italians for each German killed,″ Priebke told Diarios y Noticias news agency on Friday. Seventy of those killed were Jews.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which tries to track down Nazi war criminals, has asked Germany to reopen Priebke’s case. The case was closed when Priebke could not be located.
The center used an undercover agent to infiltrate a neo-Nazi group in Germany, which led them to Priebke and other reputed former Nazis living in South America.
The German Embassy in Buenos Aires said it received a fax Friday from the Foreign Ministry in Bonn asking for information about Priebke.
″If there are indications that he took part in this massacre, a prosecutor will begin investigations,″ embassy press chief Manfred Emmes told The Associated Press. ″If the prosecutor comes to the conclusion that a war crime was committed, he will ask for an arrest order.″
Germany has no extradition treaty with Argentina, so Argentina would have to agree to send Priebke to Germany. In 1990, Argentina sent Josef Schwammberger to Germany, where he was sentenced to life in prison for killing and ordering the deaths of Jews at slave labor camps in Poland.
Priebke is a prominent member of the German community in Bariloche, 1,100 miles southwest of Buenos Aires, and president of a local German-Argentine cultural association.
Emmes said Priebke had come to Argentina in 1947 or 1948 and has been in Bariloche since the early 1950s. The embassy had helped Priebke with cultural and social events but did not know of his Nazi past, Emmes said.
″We wouldn’t want a person like that to be head of the cultural association,″ Emmes said.
Priebke first publicly admitted taking part in the massacre in an interview with the ABC-TV news program ″Prime Time Live,″ which aired on Thursday. He told the program, and repeated again Friday to a state-owned radio station in Bariloche, that he did not deport or kill Jews.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, told the news program that claim was ″ridiculous.″
Hier sent a German special prosecutor in charge of Nazi war crimes four documents found in Italian archives that Hier said ″link Erich Priebke to the deportation of Jews.″
″I think these documents, plus Priebke’s admission that he was present in the caves during the massacre, create sufficient reason for his case to be reopened,″ Hier said in the April 29 letter to Alfred Streim, a prosecutor in the city of Ludwigsburg.
Hier said in New York on Friday one document showed Priebke’s role in the cave massacre was to line the victims up and ″check them off as they were shot.″
Sergio Widder, the Wiesenthal center’s representative in Argentina, said he did not know Priebke lived in Argentina until ABC contacted the center.
″He must have had a feeling of impunity to be able to go around without fear of being caught,″ Widder told The AP.
Argentine government archives show that dozens of war criminals and hundreds of collaborators immigrated to Argentina, often with the help of high-ranking government officials.
Files also show that many lived in Argentina without fear of being captured. Josef Mengele, for example, came to Argentine under a fake identity on an International Red Cross passport, but later used his own name.
Priebke had been second-in-command to Herbert Kappler, an SS colonel in Rome who was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the Ardeatine Caves massacre. Kappler died in 1978.
Priebke escaped from a British detention camp in Northern Italy after the war and vanished, Hier said.