Denialism and repression of memory, Priebke’s corpse still questions us

On 11 October 2013, the former SS captain Erich Priebke, sentenced to life imprisonment for the Fosse Ardeatine massacre, died more than a hundred years old in his home in Rome. The transfer of the body was refused by Argentina and Germany and, on 15 October, the Vicariate of Rome denied the funeral would be held in the churches of the capital.

The funeral ceremony was performed secretly in Albano, in the Lefebvrian community which included bishops who had denied the existence of the gas chambers. During transport, the coffin was escorted by a crowd of nostalgic Nazi-fascists and punched and kicked by demonstrators removed by the police, so much so that, to avoid clashes in the imminence of the anniversary of the roundup of the ghetto, the Prefect of Rome decided that the body was secretly taken to the military airport of Pratica di Mare and from there to an island, within the walls of an abandoned prison, under a nameless cross, in the protection of a state secret that still remains to avoid episodes of cult or of defacement of the tomb.

It comes back to mind The king and the corpse, an Indian fable that was brought back to us in the splendid prose of the German religious historian Heinrich Zimmer, who died in 1943 after being forced into exile by Nazi persecution. In order for his soul to win over evil, a very powerful king found himself having to make an initiatory journey into the darkness inhabited by spirits, cut the rope that kept the corpse of a hanged man hanging from a tree, carry it on his shoulders to the city and give him burial. But every time, before the epilogue, the body would revive and emit a shrill laugh and then fly back to the branch of the tree, as if inhabited by a ghost. The story repeated itself twenty-four times, and each time the corpse, before disappearing, asked the king to solve a riddle. Only when the king renounced the presumption of the answer, and accepted his own confusion, did the ghost give up and abandon the corpse, which finally returned to an inert, harmless body, of which it became possible to return it to the earth and, with it, the liberation .

Priebke’s corpse profoundly questions the democracy of a country that allowed the torturer of Via Tasso, responsible for the reprisal shooting of 335 people rounded up at random, to live in a comfortable residence, having been kindly granted house arrest even though he had never showed the slightest sign of repentance, and even presided over the jury of a beauty contest a few years before his death. Ten years after that death, in a progressive rarefying of the collective need for memory, the president of the Senate is the one who, having recently taken office, was able to define the SS Bozen battalion, responsible for the Ardeatine massacre, as a «musical band of semi- pensioners”, without there being any institutional consequences. Yet, in an interview-testament collected in seven pages and in a video, made public a few hours after his death, the former SS lieutenant had denied nothing; Indeed, he had stated that «loyalty to one’s past is something that has to do with our beliefs. It’s about my way of seeing the world, my ideals, what for us Germans was the Worldview and which still has to do with the sense of self-love and honor.” The story of the Shoah, he stated in that legacy, is nothing but “manipulation of consciences”, because “the new generations, starting from school, are subjected to brainwashing, obsessed with macabre stories to subjugate their freedom of judgement”.

Having taken note of the decision of the then mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, to prohibit, in agreement with the Police Headquarters and Prefecture, any public funeral, Priebke’s lawyer declared that the body would be transported to Argentina, to Bariloche, so that it could rest next to that of his wife in the charming mountain town which, thanks to the Odessa organization (organization of former SS members) and complicity in the Vatican, had become a refuge for Nazi hierarchs fleeing European trials in the immediate post-war period. Among these, Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann.

Fate – or perhaps the specter of the corpse that poses riddles to the king – meant that Priebke’s burial was decided by the son of Jacobo Timerman, the great Argentine journalist of Jewish origin persecuted by the coup junta which in 1976 caused thirty thousand to fall into thin air desaparecidos, many of them Jews, suspects as such in the eyes of those who, in the God-Homeland-Family triad, had been nourished by anti-Semitic ideology. Héctor Timerman, then Foreign Minister of the Buenos Aires government, gave orders to reject any procedure that could allow “the body of the criminal Erich Priebke to enter the country”. His words, entrusted to Twitter, went around the world, and when the Prefect of Rome Giuseppe Pecoraro believed he could resolve the dilemma by sending the body to Germany, Priebke’s homeland, he had to face the refusal of the mayors of four cities and cemeteries German soldiers, because the former SS man had not died in the war.

A dead body that no one wanted, a corpse for which the Jewish community of Rome had requested cremation and the scattering of the ashes, which was refused by his children. A body which – as Hannah Arendt said of Eichmann – one wishes had never inhabited the planet, and which nevertheless until a few days before his death had walked through the streets and gardens of his Roman neighborhood followed by an escort paid by the State, constantly garrisoned at his home, celebrated on his hundredth birthday by a crowd of neo-fascists who only an uprising on social media could prevent from organizing a public celebration. The reversal of facts, the rewriting of history, the removal of memory, a sneaky denialism that casts its shadow on the reality we live in, looking for shortcuts, conspiracies and culprits to deny or ridicule the profound crises that afflict us – climatic, social, cultural , of rights, of representation. This is the corpse that our democracy must carry on its shoulders, until it definitively chases away the specter that continues to inhabit its body.

Original article

Autore dell'articolo: Ignazio Marino