Monday, April 11, 2016


Erich Priebke.  I am pretty sure that most you have never heard this name before.  I just added him to my One-Name Study (ONS).  He was the son of Gustav Wilhelm Ernst Priebke and Hedwig Selma Rosa Glänzer.  Glänzer is one of the name variations in my ONS and it means he is related to me (just not 100% sure how yet).

I got Erich’s name from my cousin Christina in Germany who works on the ONS with me. She also sent me Erich’s occupation – SS-Hauptstrurmführer.  Even if you aren’t German you probably understand SS.  Erich was a captain in the German SS (Sicherheitspolizei) during World War II.  He participated in the Fosse Ardeatine Massacre of 335 Italian citizens in 1944 and was later captured and held prisoner by the British. He manage to escape and he fled to Argentina where he lived a very comfortable life under the radar until 1994.  Sam Donaldson from ABC news tracked him down and when he was approached for an interview he apparently felt it was safe to speak out after so many years. He admitted to his participation in the massacre to Mr. Donaldson.  He felt he was not guilty of anything because he was simply following orders. He very wrong if he thought this explanation would be accepted.  Now that his whereabouts were known he was arrested and extradited to Italy.  He then went into an endless cycle of hearings, trials and appeals. He was sentenced several times with the sentence changing.  His final sentence was life imprisonment but was given house arrest because of his age.

Erich died on 11 October 2013 in Rome, Italy at the age of 100.  He wanted to be buried in Argentina next to his wife but Argentina refused.  Germany also refused to allow the body to be returned there.  The Vatican issued an order that his funeral could not be conducted in any Catholic church in Rome.  He is buried in the Cimitero della Colonia Penale de Isili in Isili, Italy. It is a abandoned prison cemetery.

I never knew this man existed until today. Now I want to know more. I am interested in his early life before the War. I want to know what made this man tick and why.

History is history, you can’t change it. There are going to be bad people in your family tree and you can’t just ignore them. I could reduce Erich down to a list of vital statistics and pretend that I don’t know about his past but that would be an error by omission.

For more information:

Erich Priebke Biography (
Erich Priebke: Nazi war criminal (BBC)
Erich Priebke, Nazi Who Carried Out Massacre of 335 Italians, Dies at 100 (NY Times)
Just following orders (The Economist)

There are many more. 

If you would like to see a picture of Erich in uniform during World War II and one of him in later life, you can go to Erich’s Find A Grave Memorial.


Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing, we have no control over who our relatives are. I commend you on telling this story.