The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: people/p//priebke.erich/background

From Mon Nov 27 17:42:39 PST 1995
Article: 11242 of
From: (Ed Walton)
Subject: Re: Preibke on trial
Date: Sat, 25 Nov 1995 23:33:10 -0500
Organization: Fighting Force of Extraordinary Magnitude
Lines: 109
Message-ID: <49deot$>
References: <492qah$>
NNTP-Posting-User: rick

In article <492qah$>, John Morgan

> Most of you have probably heard about this already, but just in case...
> SS Captain Erich Preibke, who served in the German occupation of Rome,
> was responsible for the execution of 335 Italians in the Ardeatine
> caves near Rome in 1944.

I don't think Hauptsturmfuhrer Priebke was "responsible" for the execution
in the way one would generally use that term. His job was to stand at the
entrance to the cave where the executions took place and cross off the
names of the victims as they entered with their executioner.

The Communist Gruppi di Azione Patriottica used a TNT car-bomb (maybe
"cart-bomb" is more appropriate since it was in a street sweeper's cart)
to blow up a company of German police officers as they marched up a narrow
street in formation on 3/23/44 at 3:45 pm. The partisans then
hand-grenaded the survivors. 26 police were killed outright and 60 were
wounded, including 16 seriously. This was a violation of the "open city"
agreement between the Allies and the Axis. In the confusion, all 16
partisans escaped.

Gen. Kurt Maelzer, the German commandant in Rome, arrived almost
immediately at the scene, drunk, and ordered army engineers to blow the
street with all inhabitants. A typical German army response to partisan
operations. As the engineers prepped their charges, SS-Standartenfuhrer
Eugen Dollman arrived, as did the German Consul, Eitel Moellhausen.
Dollman and Moellhausen got into a heated argument with Maelzer when they
saw what he was planning. SS-Obersturmbahnfuhrer Herbert Kappler, head of
the SD in Rome, arrived and joined the argument. Kappler, as head of SD
and Gestapo, convinced the drunken Maelzer that it was an SD matter and
Maelzer should go home.

Hitler was informed of the car-bomb attack and by about 4:30 pm had issued
orders for the German authorities in Rome to execute 30-50 Italians for
each dead German policeman. Gen.Eberhard von Mackensen, commander of the
German 14th Army, decided the fuhrer was being excessive and reduced the
number of Italian victims to ten per German and issued orders as such to
Maelzer. SD head Kappler had expected such an order and had ordered up a
list of all prisoners in Rome who were already under sentence of death.

Generalfeldmarschall Kesselring, C-in-C in Italy, stepped in and ordered
that the executions must take place within 24 hours. Meanwhile, the German
police kept dying, thus making the list of reprisal victims ever longer.
The list now included all those convicted of capital crimes and sentenced
to death, plus those convicted of capital crimes but sentenced to prison
terms, as well as those awaiting trial for such crimes. The total of
police dead rose to 32 during the night and Kappler was authorized to
execute 320 Italians, but by 3 am, Kappler's total of future victims was
only 270. The Italian police were ordered to make up the balance by 1 pm.

By about 2 pm, Kappler and his 74-man SD execution team (apparently most,
if not all, officers) were on their way to some tunnels that were chosen
as execution chamber and tomb. Another policeman had died, so Kappler had
grabbed ten Jews who had just been rounded up. This brought his total to
280, but the Italians had still not provided their 50. Each SD man was to
walk his victim into the tunnel, have the victim kneel down, then shoot
him once in the back of the head with a small caliber pistol. Kappler
informed his men that any SD man refusing to do his duty, as ordered by
Adolf, would be shot with the other victims.

As Haupsturmfuhrer Priebke stood by the cave opening with his checklist,
the prisoners were taken in groups of 5 into the tunnel to be shot.
Kappler personally took his turn with the second group, then returned to
his office. The Italians still hadn't come up with their victims, so
Kappler sent a truck to the jail, which picked up another 30 or so. Names
and numbers were getting confused by this point. Then Kappler got a call
that one of his officers, an Obersturmfuhrer Wetjen, was refusing to
particpate. Kappler went to the scene and found that his machine-like
system had broken down in his absence, and the killings were having a bad
psychological effect on his men. He ordered them to get drunk, then
grabbed Wetjen and took him into the tunnel where the two of them each
killed a prisoner. This went on unitl 8pm when engineers arrived and blew
up the entrances to the tunnels to form a tomb for the victims. About this
time it turned out that 335 Italians had be shot. Kappler also found out
written orders had been issued specifying only 320 were to be shot.

Trials were held in Italy after the war (not including Priebke, who had
escaped capture). Feldmarschall Kesselring, Gen.von Mackensen, and Gen.
Maelser were tried by a British military tribunal, found guilty, and
sentenced to death, but commuted to life. Maelzer died in prison,
Kesselring and Mackensen were released after 5 years.

SD head Kappler was tried with five of his officers in 1948. The Italian
court decided that the reprisal of ten Italians shot for each German
police officer killed was a perfectly legal response to the illegal
bombing. Kappler would probably have walked were it not for the extra 5
victims they had shot due to the math error. In any case, he was found
guilty of 5 murders and sentenced to life. All his men were found not
guilty, although they admitted to actually pulling the trigger when their
turns came.

Kappler escaped from the Italians in 1977 and made it to Germany. Germany
refused to extradite him to Italy and he died of cancer in 1978.

Considering the way those who really were responsible for the atrocity
were dealt with, it seems ridiculous to be hauling in the guy with the
checklist at this point. But when you consider Sam Donaldson is the guy
behind this, it makes sense. Then again, perhaps the Italians are going to
say it was Priebke's job to detect the math error and the 5 extra murders
are his personal responsiblity as bookkeeper.

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