Justice by Howard Richard Debs

Issue 12

how is it to be told? . . . in detailing the facts themselves?
—Charles Reznikoff, Reznikoff Papers Box VII, Folder 26

What to do with the body
of a Nazi war criminal
no one wants
where to bury him, since Rome,
his adopted homeland of Argentina,
and his hometown in Germany won’t take him?

He died Friday at age 100
in the Rome home of his lawyer,
where he had been serving
his life term under house arrest.

Priebke spent nearly 50 years as a fugitive
before being extradited to Italy
from Argentina in 1995 to stand trial.

          Erich Priebke got up from his seat
          to break the silence he observed
          since the trial’s start to say
          he would not testify before the court.

Rome Mayor:
the city accepts neither a
church funeral nor a burial for him.

          The 335 victims of the massacre
          were machine-gunned at the
          Ardeatine Caves near Rome,
          which were then dynamited
          in an attempt to hide the bodies.

Chief rabbi of Rome’s Jewish community:
cremate while dead,
unlike the millions of children who
went into the ovens and for whom
Priebke never had pity.

          Priebke claims
          he was forced to participate or face death.
          It is likely that Priebke will be one of
          the last significant Nazi war-criminals to face trial.

Priebke’s lawyer:
as a practicing Catholic,
Priebke deserves a
Catholic funeral and burial.

But not even Priebke’s
adopted homeland of Argentina,
where he lived in the mountain
resort of Bariloche, will take him.

Priebke was born in Hennigsdorf,
a small town north of Berlin,
local rules give only
residents a right to burial
in its cemetery, exceptions
are possible in cases where
people have family graves there,
but the Priebke family
doesn’t have any.

In his final interview released upon his death,
he denied the Nazis gassed Jews
during the Holocaust.

Sources: Palm Beach Post article October 14, 2013 “Church, state refuse funeral for former Nazi” ; AP Archive Story No. 28506 06/03/1996 “Former Nazi Officer Erich Priebke Trial”

Method: I have files stuffed with all manner of clippings, notices, advertisements sitting waiting. The local newspaper article about the Nazi Priebke demanded a response. The free-form excerpting and lineation was straightforward enough but there needed to be something else. I am a devotee of the objectivists, and particularly Charles Reznikoff; his work Holocaust, all 94 pages of it, being a tour-de-force of found poetry. Holocaust uses actual testimony (Reznikoff had a law degree) extracted from 26 volumes of transcriptions from the court proceedings of the Eichmann and Nuremberg trials. I followed his example and researched for detail about the Priebke trial itself and discovered the AP archive story. Juxtaposing elements of the two creates a full picture representing the inhumanity of humanity through the words and deeds of but one human being.

Howard Richard Debs is a finalist and recipient of the 28th Annual 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards. His essays, fiction, and poetry appear internationally in numerous publications; his new full length work Gallery: A Collection of Pictures and Words, (Scarlet Leaf Publishing) is a 2017 Best Book Awards winner as Finalist in poetry. He is listed in the Directory of American Poets & Writers