The amazing escape of 70-year-old Nazi war criminal Herbert Kappler from an Italian prison hospital to West Germany has engulfed the Bonn government in an increasingly damaging, yet seemingly unresolvable, international dilemma.

The bizarre episode has put West Germany, whose postwar constitution prevents extradition of German nationals, in the ironic position of protecting the former Gestapo chief of Rome, who was convicted of a 1944 reprisal killing of 335 Italian civilians.

"A sick old man continues in the role for which he was condemned - creating enmity between Germany and Italy," the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper lamented.

But the enmity directed at Bonn since Monday, when Kappler's wife lugged him out of a hospital in a wardrobe trunk before dawn, is coming from places other than just Italy.

Some of the criticism is from Bonn's traditional antagonists and is to be expected. Nevertheless, it and questions being raised elsewhere are stinging and government here and helping to open up old wounds of World War II, which in many places still linger not far beneath the surface.

Today's edition of Neues Deutschland, the official newspaper of East Germany's ruling Communist Party, carried bold front-page headlines proclaiming "SS Murderer Kappler Under the Protection of FRG [West German] Authorities."

Although it failed to mention West German laws against extraditing nationals, the Communist paper presented the situation as a revealing indictment of the West German political system.