Erich Priebke Funeral
Anti-fascist demonstrators protest after the hearse carrying the coffin of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke arrives in Albano Laziale (Reuters)

The body of late Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke has been taken to a military airport near Rome, after a last minute funeral organised by an ostracised Catholic order was called off amid violent protests.

Priebke's coffin arrived at the Pratica di Mare airport on a police van that was attacked by protesters as it left the premises of the Pius X institute, in the town of Albano Laziale, near the Italian capital, where the funerals were to be conducted.

Rome's procurator, who first allowed and then suspended the funeral rites amid security concerns, said contact has been made with Germany for the remains of the former SS captain to be flown there.

This latest development comes as Italy marks the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Jews from Rome's ghetto.

At a ceremony in Rome's main synagogue commemorating the round-up of more than 1,000 Jews by Nazi forces and their subsequent deportation to Auschwitz, the turmoil caused by Priebke's death was unwittingly high on the agenda.

Priebke died aged 100 in Rome, where he was serving a life sentence for the so-called 1943 Ardeatine Caves massacre, when 335 Italians were executed in retaliation for the killing of 30 Nazi soldiers.

He was dubbed The Torturer of Tasso Street after the location of an infamous wartime jail in Rome, where many anti-fascists were questioned by the SS.

"It's useless to deny these celebrations have gone along with echoes from the death of the torturer of Tasso Street, the murderer of the Ardeatine Caves," said Riccardo Pacifici, the president of Rome's Jewish community.

"We don't want to pronounce his name anymore. [He was] a criminal, who never repented during his life."

Priebke never showed remorse for his crime, nor for the horrors of the Nazi regime.

In an interview recorded months before his death, he denied the Holocaust and defended Adolf Hitler and the Nazi ideology.

The interview sparked outrage across the world, prompting numerous authorities to refuse him funerals.

Unwanted body

Erich Priebke
Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke has died aged 100 in Rome (Reuters)

"I could not allow the farewell to a Nazi criminal to be turned into a historical revisionism parade," said Rome's Mayor Ignazio Marino.

The Vatican refused Priebke a church funeral, citing a canon law that bars ceremonies for manifest sinners who refuse to repent.

Burial was also denied by Priebke's native town of Hennigsdord, on the outskirts of Berlin, and by Argentina, where the Nazi criminal lived for about 50 years after the war.

A traditionalist Catholic splinter group, the Society of St. Pius X, whose members included the Holocaust denier Richard Williamson, then suddenly announced it was to hold the funeral at its premises in Albano Laziale.

The order, founded by French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970, has no canonical status after it was blackballed by the Vatican in the 1980s.

Outraged local residents led by the town's mayor Nicola Marini staged a protest outside the institute.

Demonstrators attacked Priebke's hearse as it entered the gates of the complex, chanting "murderer" and anti-Fascist slogans.

The priest who was supposed to celebrate the ceremony was also assaulted while he was making his way to the institute's gates, as police struggled to contain protesters.

A group of neo-Nazis tried to reach the church but were halted by security forces.

A few hours later the funeral was called off. "We had to suspend the rite because it risked being turned into a neo-Nazi gathering," said Rome's Procurator Giuseppe Pecoraro, who had earlier overturned Albano Laziale's mayor decision to close off the town streets to prevent the hearse arriving at its destination.

Priebke's lawyer Paolo Giachini said the celebration did not take place because family and friends who wanted to attend were blocked by police.

"Authorities did not allow people to enter who wanted to come in. Everything was ready. We were waiting for those who should have arrived to participate," Giachini said.

Clashes between neo-Nazis and anti-fascist protesters erupted but were swiftly quelled by police. Two people were arrested.

At night, demonstrators hurled stones and firecrackers at a police van that took Priebke's body to Pratica di Mare.

Nazi Erich Priebke
Supporters of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke shout slogans after the hearse carrying his coffin arrived in Albano Laziale (Reuters)
Erich Priebke clashes
Anti-fascist demonstrators shout as a police van carrying the coffin of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke leaves Pius X institute (Reuters)