Former SS Captain Erich Priebke participated in the 1944 massacre of 335 Italian civilians in Rome, Italy. He was captured and tried for his crimes in the 1990s.
Born in Germany in 1913, Erich Priebke served as an SS captain during World War II. He was one of the men responsible for the 1944 massacre of 335 Italian civilians in the Ardeatine caves in Rome, Italy. After the war, Priebke fled to Argentina, where he lived for roughly 50 years. He was the subject of a 1994 ABC News report by Sam Donaldson. After the interview aired on television, Priebke was arrested and later extradited to Italy. He went through several trials in Italy before finally receiving a life sentence in 1998.
SS Officer in WWII
Born on July 29, 1913, in Hennigsdorf, Germany, Erich Priebke is one of the last Nazi war criminals to be tried for his crimes during World War II. An SS captain stationed in Rome, Italy, Priebke was involved in a brutal massacre of Italian men and boys at the Ardeatine caves near Rome on March 24, 1944, according to numerous reports.
This tragic event was an act of retribution by German forces, and resulted in the killing of 335 civilians. Adolf Hitler reportedly ordered that 10 Italians be executed for each of 33 German soldiers who died in an earlier bombing in Rome by a communist group. Approximately 70 Jews were among those who were murdered at the caves. Priebke was involved in selecting the civilians and shooting two of them personally.
After the war, Priebke was meant to stand trial for his crimes, but he managed to escape from a British camp for prisoners of war. His superior, SS Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler, received a life sentence for his role in the massacre.
Discovery and Trial
For roughly 50 years, Priebke lived in the resort town of San Carlos de Bariloche in Argentina. He was hiding in plain sight, using his own name and even traveling abroad using a German passport. Priebke only attracted international interest when an American news report on him aired in 1994, after ABC News reporter Sam Donaldson interviewed him in Argentina. Priebke told Donaldson that those killed were "mostly terrorists" and denied that young teenaged boys had been killed in the massacre. When asked to explain his participation in the massacre, Priebke said that he had just been following orders.
Not long after the interview aired, Priebke was put under house arrest. He was later extradited to Italy to stand trial for his crimes. In 1996, a military tribunal dismissed the charges against Priebke on the grounds that the statue of limitations on his crimes had run out; the decision caused a public outcry. Back in a different courtroom the following year, Priebke received a 15-year prison sentence for his actions, but that sentence was later reduced to five years. Causing further controversy, the court took into consideration the time that Priebke had spent under house arrest, leaving the former Nazi with a mere six-month sentence.
In 1998, Priebke was finally given what many considered to be a more appropriate form of punishment—a life sentence—with the court allowing him to serve the time under house arrest in Rome. Since that ruling, Priebke had been involved in several legal battles. In 2013, he lost a case against Jewish community leader Riccardo Pacifici; Priebke had sued Pacifici, claiming that Pacifici had tried to kidnap him in a 1996 courtroom, according to The Guardian newspaper. His lawyer Paolo Giachini announced his death on October 11, 2013 at age 100 in Rome. With the announcement, Giachini also released a final interview with Priebke. In the interview, the war criminal showed no remorse and continued to deny the Holocaust and accused the West of fabricating the crimes.