Published October 11, 2013
ROME – Erich Priebke, a former Nazi SS captain sentenced to life in prison for his role in one of the worst atrocities by German occupiers in Italy during World War II, died Friday, his lawyer said. He was 100.
Because of his age, Priebke had served his life term under house arrest at the home of his lawyer, Paolo Giachini, who announced the death in a brief statement.
"The dignity with which he withstood his persecution made him an example of courage, coherence and loyalty," Giachini said.
Priebke was extradited to Italy from Argentina in 1995 and put on trial for his role in the 1944 massacre of 335 civilians by Nazi forces at the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome. The massacre was carried out in retaliation for an attack by resistance fighters that killed 33 members of a Nazi military police unit a day earlier.
Priebke admitted shooting two people and rounding up victims, but insisted he was only following orders.
Priebke long felt like he had been scapegoated, since other Germans who had participated in the massacre weren't convicted, another lawyer, Carlo Taormina, told The Associated Press.
Priebke had escaped in 1946 from a British prison camp in Rimini, a resort town on Italy's Adriatic coast, and had lived in Argentina for nearly 50 years before a U.S. television program reported that he was living freely in Argentina.
That started off a lengthy extradition process that ended with him boarding a plane in Argentina on Nov. 20, 1995, the 50th anniversary of the start of the Nuremberg trials.
Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter who just this year launched a new push to search for unpunished war criminals, said Priebke's case proves it is never too late to seek justice.
"Priebke's death at the age of 100 should be a powerful reminder that some of the worst perpetrators of the crimes of the Holocaust live to a healthy old age and that a person's chronological age should never prevent them from being held accountable for their crimes if they are healthy enough to be brought to justice," he said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.
"Priebke was a classic example of a totally unrepentant Nazi war criminal," he said.