Nazi funeral flap overshadows Jewish ceremony

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c. 2013 Religion News Service

ROME (RNS) The ongoing controversy over the funeral of an unrepentant Nazi captain overshadowed Wednesday’s ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of the deportation of more than 1,000 of the city’s Jews to concentration camps.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino and Israeli Ambassador Naor Gilon attended the event in the city’s massive riverside synagogue.

Of the 1,023 Roman Jews deported on the morning of Oct. 16, 1943, only 16 returned to Rome. Of those, two are still living.

Luciano Camerino, 85, and Lello Di Segni, 87, were deported as teenagers. Only Camerino appeared at Wednesday’s ceremony, where officials greeted him warmly at the conclusion.

But Erich Priebke, a former SS captain who died Friday in Rome at age 100 while serving a life sentence for his role in the massacre of 335 Italians in 1944,  overshadowed the proceedings.

Nearly every speaker mentioned him, though not by name, with Rabbi Riccardo Pacifici earning the loudest applause when he praised protesters who prevented Priebke’s funeral outside of Rome.

“For this, we can be proud to be Romans,” Pacifici said.

Priebke lived under house arrest in Rome for the last 15 years, and after his death churches in Rome were ordered not to conduct his funeral.

But late Tuesday, the breakaway Catholic group the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) said it would conduct a funeral in Albano Laziale, a town just outside of Rome. Members of SSPX defended the decision, saying that a baptized Christian has the right to a funeral and burial “no matter what his sins.” The low-key plans were abandoned after protesters kicked and rocked the car carrying Priebke’s coffin and prevented it from reaching the church.

Priebke’s remains are being held at a military airport near Rome until it can be determined where he will be buried. The city of Rome, Priebke’s adopted home in Argentina and Hennigsdorf, Germany, the town of his birth, all refused his burial.