Germany may take Nazi's corpse
The funeral of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke has been halted in Italy amid outrage that he was to be given a religious service.
Priebke died on Friday in Rome, where he was serving a life term for his role in the 1944 massacre of 335 civilians at the Ardeatine Caves outside the capital. It was one of the worst atrocities of Germany's Second World War occupation of Italy.
His death at age 100 unleashed a torrent of emotion, because he left behind a document in which he not only defended his actions but denied that Jews were gassed in Nazi death camps.
His stance enraged Rome's Jewish community, which gathered on Wednesday in Rome's main synagogue to commemorate the October 16, 1943, roundup of Jews bound for Auschwitz and to warn of the continued dangers posed by Holocaust deniers like Priebke.
The head of Italy's Jewish communities, Renzo Gattegna, referred to Priebke in his remarks but refused to pronounce his name "to not profane this sacred place."
He said the Nazis were assassins of innocents. "Their followers are assassins of memory. They will never win," he declared.
On Tuesday a Senate committee passed a bill criminalising Holocaust denial - passage that was given greater impulse because of the outcry over Priebke's final words.
Both civil and Catholic Church officials in Rome denied Priebke a church funeral and burial, fearing it could have turned into a pilgrimage for neo-Nazis.
Those fears were borne out when plans by a fringe Catholic church to celebrate a funeral Mass for Priebke were called off amid clashes between Priebke's right-wing supporters and protesters in the city of Albano Laziale, south of Rome.
There remained the question of what to do with Priebke's remains, which reportedly were taken from the Albano church overnight to a military air base. Rome's mayor and prefect announced that negotiations were underway with Germany to take them.
The German Foreign Ministry confirmed there had been "informal contacts" with Italian authorities.