Erich Priebke, a former Nazi SS captain who evaded arrest for nearly 50 years after taking part in one of the worst atrocities by German occupiers in Italy during World War II, died yesterday at age 100. Priebke was finally extradited to Italy from Argentina in 1995 to face trial for the 1944 massacre, and he was sentenced to life in prison. However he served that sentence under house arrest at the Rome home of his lawyer, Paolo Giachini. Priebke was tried and convicted 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 escaped in 1946 from a British prison camp in Rimini, a resort town on Italy's Adriatic coast, and lived in Argentina for nearly 50 years before a US television program reported that he was living freely in the country. That started 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, to stand trial in Italy. The country's highest appeals court upheld his conviction and life sentence in 1998. In a final interview from July released by his lawyer, Priebke denied that Nazis gassed Jews during the Holocaust and accused the West of having fabricated the crimes to minimize the Allies' own abuses during the war.