Contrasting fates of war criminals

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Contrasting fates of war criminals

In October 2013, a black funeral car appeared in front of a church in Albano Laziale in Italy, and protestors shouted, “His body belongs to a dumpster!” They were the angry citizens who despised Erich Priebke, a former Nazi SS captain responsible for killing 335 Italians.

He fled to Argentina and worked as a hotel manager. But in 1995, his Nazi past was exposed and he was extradited to Italy. He was sentenced to life in prison and died at the age of 100.

Problems arose upon his death. His descendants couldn’t find a place to bury him as Italy, Germany and Argentina refused to provide a burial site. They were afraid that the grave of Priebke would be a shrine for the extreme rightists. In the end, he was buried in a deserted cemetery within a prison site in Italy.

The Nazi war criminals couldn’t be buried in peace upon their deaths. The bodies of 11 major war criminals sentenced to death in the Nuremberg trials were incinerated in a crematorium, and the ashes were scattered over a river. Adolf Eichmann, who organized the Holocaust, lived in hiding in Argentina, but he was captured by Mossad in 1960. He was executed and cremated, his ashes scattered in the sea.

Sometimes, a grave is demolished. Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess died in prison and was buried in a cemetery in Wunsiedel, Germany. But when the town became a scene of pilgrimages by neo-Nazis, the authorities and families decided to reopen the grave, cremate the remains and scatter the ashes on a lake.

Japanese war criminals were supposed to face a similar fate. In the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, 28 Class A criminals were tried, and Douglas MacArthur initially attempted to hand over the remains of seven executed war criminals, including Hideki Tojo. But Kuzma Derevyanko, a Lieutenant General in the Soviet Army, opposed handing over the remains, as keeping them would lead to a revival of militarism. So the remains were cremated and the ashes were scattered in the sea off Tokyo.

If it had all ended here, there would have been no Yasukuni controversy. But a Japanese soldier working at the crematorium secretly saved a handful of ashes for each war criminal. The remains were kept at a temple until they were moved to Sangane Mountain in Aichi in 1960. It became the “Grave of the Seven Patriots who Died for the Country,” a far-right shrine in Japan.

In 1978, Japan became more politically conservative, and 14 Class A war criminals - including the executed seven and another seven that received life sentences - were enshrined in the Yasukuni Shrine.

On Aug. 15, incumbent ministers and Diet members of Japan visited the Yasukuni Shrine. Prime Minister Abe sent a ritual offering. The Yasukuni controversy will repeat itself indefinitely. Some Japanese claim that a separate memorial facility should be built. The Korean government needs to pressure Tokyo with specific alternatives rather than merely opposing it.

*The author is an international news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 17, Page 31

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