Barbie, Nikolaus ("Klaus"), Trial of

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BARBIE, NIKOLAUS ("Klaus "), TRIAL OF , trial in Lyons, France, of ss Hauptsturmfuehrer (captain) Klaus Barbie (b. 1913). Known as "the Butcher of Lyons" for his wartime activities in France, Barbie joined the Nazi Party in 1932 and in 1935 became the personal adjutant to the head of the local Nazi Party office in Trier. In late September 1935 he also joined the ss, working in the sd (Security Service) main office and then as a specialist in the Duesseldorf region. On April 20, 1940, he was made an ss second lieutenant (Untersturmfuehrer). On May 29, 1940, shortly after the fall of the Netherlands. Barbie was assigned to the "culture" section of the sd in Amsterdam. His job was to monitor anti-Nazi tendencies in the fields of science, education, religion, sport, entertainment, and propaganda. In November of that year he was promoted to ss first lieutenant (Obersturmfuehrer); exactly two years later he would reach the rank of Hauptsturmfuehrer. During the disturbances in Amsterdam in February 1941, Barbie had acid thrown into his face by the Jewish owners of the Koko ice cream parlor. In reprisal over four hundred young Jewish men were arrested and sent to Mauthausen, where most of them perished.

Barbie was made the head of the Gestapo (kds) in Lyons in November 1942 and remained in that post for nearly two years. To foil the Resistance, Barbie ordered that raids be conducted against arbitrary targets as well as places suspected of underground activity. His work was characterized by a combination of guile and cruelty. He was apparently responsible for the arrest of René Hardy, a resistance leader. Twice tried after the war, Hardy was found innocent of charges that he had divulged the names of French underground leaders to Barbie. Nevertheless, shortly after Hardy was interrogated, Barbie arrested Jean Moulin, Charles de Gaulle's representative in southern France. Moulin had unified the major undergrounds and resistance movements under the National Resistance Council, which was founded on May 27, 1943. During the course of Barbie's interrogation, Moulin was brutally tortured, but apparently gave away nothing before he died. Barbie was involved in the deportation of at least 842 other people from Lyons and its environs. Half of them belonged to the Resistance, and half of them were Jews. He also personally shot a number of persons and was responsible for the death of others from the villages of St. Rambert-en-Bugey, Evosges, Nivollet-Montgriffen, the Montluc prison in Lyons, and other places.

Perhaps his most ignominious act was the seizure and deportation of 41 children and five women who were found hiding in Izieu, a village about 44 miles (70 km.) east of Lyons on April 6, 1944. They were sent to Auschwitz on August 11, 1944. Barbie also was responsible for the deportation of 85 Jews taken in a raid on the headquarters of the Union Générale des Israélites de France (ugif), on February 9, 1943, in Lyons.

In the spring of 1947, Barbie began working for the Counter Intelligence Corps of the U.S. Army in Germany. He became such a valuable informant that his superiors protected him from French attempts to extradite him and helped him escape to Bolivia. Arriving in Bolivia in 1951, he assumed the alias Klaus Altmann, eventually becoming an important advisor to several Bolivian governments. Barbie was tried in absentia in France in 1952 and in 1954. In the first trial he was charged with atrocities committed in the Jura region against the civilian population and the underground. In the second trial he was charged with committing a massacre at St. Genis-Laval and numerous shootings at the Montluc prison in Lyons. Both trials led to his conviction and sentences of death. In 1971 Barbie was found in La Paz, Bolivia, by Beate and Serge *Klarsfeld, French hunters of Nazis. It was not until 1983, however, following repeated appeals by the French, that he was expelled from Bolivia and brought to France for trial.

Barbie was charged with the raid on the ugif office and the deportation of the Jews from Izieu, two acts for which he had not been previously tried. Coming under the rubric of "crimes against humanity," these acts were not subject to the statute of limitation in France. The main proceedings against Barbie took place between May 11 and July 4, 1987. The trial aroused a great deal of interest in France and the rest of the world. Many Frenchmen had mixed feelings about the trial or opposed it. Some Jews thought it might arouse antisemitism or become a forum for the denial of the Holocaust. Extreme right-wingers actually advanced the claim that Barbie's behavior was no worse than that of the Allies, who had bombed German cities and caused the death of civilians. Some feared it would raise the question again of events surrounding the death of Jean Moulin and of French collaboration with the Nazis.

Barbie himself, after making an early appearance in the courtroom, refused to be present for most of the trial. He was found guilty on July 4, 1987, and given the maximum penalty under French law, life imprisonment. He died in 1991.


T. Bower, Klaus Barbie, "Butcher of Lyons" (1984); A.J. Ryan, Jr. (ed.), Klaus Barbie and the United States Government (1984).

[Robert Rozette]

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Barbie, Nikolaus ("Klaus"), Trial of

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