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Klaus Barbie

Nikolaus 'Klaus' Barbie (25 October 1913 25 September 1991) was an SS-Hauptsturmf hrer (rank approximately equivalent to army captain), Gestapo member and war criminal. He was known as the Butcher of Lyon.


Early life

Klaus Barbie was born in Godesberg, later renamed Bad Godesberg, which is today part of Bonn. The Barbie family came from Merzig, in the Saar. In origin, his patrilineal ancestors were probably a French Catholic family called Barbier that had left France at the time of the French Revolution. In 1914, his father Nickolaus Barbie went off to fight in World War I. He returned an angry, bitter man. He had been wounded in the neck at Verdun and had been captured by the French, whom he hated. He never recovered his health, and was later diagnosed with cancer of blood, spine and prostate.[1] Nickolaus was a school teacher. Until 1923 Klaus went to the school where his father taught. Afterward, he attended a boarding school in Trier. In 1925, his whole family moved to Trier. In June 1933, Barbie's younger brother Kurt died at the age of eighteen of chronic illness. Later that year Barbie's father also died. The death of his abusive, alcoholic father derailed plans for young Barbie to study theology or otherwise become an academic, as his peers had expected. His relationship with his father was difficult and brutal, so it was a relief when he went off to Trier to continue his education. During his youth, Barbie was often shy and quiet. He was passably intelligent without being brilliant. He was reasonably popular without being considered a leader. While unemployed, Barbie was drafted into the Nazi labour service, the Reichsarbeitsdienst.

On 26 September 1935, he joined the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the special security branch service of the SS {Nr. 272 284} which acted as the intelligence-gathering arm of the Nazi Party. On 1 May 1937 he joined the Nazi Party {Nr. 4 583 085}. In April 1939, Barbie became engaged to Regina Margaretta Willms, a 23-year-old daughter of a postal clerk. He was sent to serve in Amsterdam in the German-occupied Netherlands. In 1942, he was sent to Dijon and in November of the same year he was sent to Lyon as the head of the local Gestapo.

War crimes

He first set up camp at H tel Terminus in Lyon. It was this time as head of the Gestapo of Lyon that earned him the name Butcher of Lyon. Evidence suggests that he personally tortured prisoners, men, women, and children alike, by breaking extremities, sexual abuse using dogs, and electroshock, among other methods.[2]

It is estimated that he was directly responsible for the deaths of up to 14,000 people.[3][4] The most infamous case is the arrest and torture of Jean Moulin, one of the highest-ranking members of the French Resistance. In April 1944, Barbie ordered the deportation to Auschwitz of a group of 44 Jewish children from an orphanage at Izieu. After his operations in Lyon, he rejoined the SIPO-SD of Lyon in Bruyeres-in-Vosges, where he was also responsible for a massacre in Rehaupal in September 1944.

US intelligence and Bolivia

In 1947, Barbie became an agent for the 66th Detachment of the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC).[5] In 1951, he fled to Juan Peron's Argentina with the help of a ratline organized by U.S. intelligence services[6] and the Croatian Ustashi Roman Catholic priest Krunoslav Draganovi . Asked by Barbie why he was going out of his way to help him escape, Draganovi responded, "We have to maintain a sort of moral reserve on which we can draw in the future."[7] Barbie then emigrated to Bolivia, where he lived under the alias Klaus Altmann. Testimony of Italian insurgent Stefano Delle Chiaie before the Italian Parliamentary Commission on Terrorism suggests that Barbie took part in the "Cocaine Coup" of Luis Garc a Meza Tejada, when the regime forced its way to power in Bolivia in 1980.[8]

In 1965 Barbie was recruited by the German foreign intelligence agency Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) under the codename "Adler" (Eagle) and the registration number V-43118 due to both his excellent relations to high-ranking Bolivian officials and his strongly nationalist and anti-communist stance.[9] His initial monthly salary of 500 Deutsche Mark was transferred in May 1966 to an account of the Chartered Bank of London in San Francisco. During his stint with the BND he was responsible for at least 35 reports that were sent to the BND headquarters in Pullach.[10]

Che Guevara

The 2007 documentary My Enemy's Enemy, directed by Oscar-winning British director Kevin Macdonald, raises the possibility that Barbie helped the CIA orchestrate the 1967 capture and execution of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara in Bolivia.[11] In 1966 a disguised Guevara arrived in Bolivia to organize the overthrow of its military dictatorship, and according to the film, the CIA turned to Barbie for his first-hand knowledge of counter-guerrilla warfare.[11]

According to Alvaro de Castro, a longtime confidant of Barbie interviewed for the film:

De Castro adds that Barbie "had little respect for Che Guevara", viewing him as "a pitiful adventurer."[11] In the film, journalist Kai Hermann remarks that "He (Barbie) always boasted though I cannot prove it that it was he who devised the strategy for murdering Che Guevara."[11]


Barbie was identified in Bolivia in 1971 by the Klarsfelds (Nazi hunters), and on 19 January 1983, the newly elected government of Hern n Siles Zuazo arrested and extradited him to France.

In 1984, Barbie was put on trial for crimes committed while he was in charge of the Gestapo in Lyon between 1942 and 1944. The trial started on 11 May 1987, in Lyon a jury trial before the Rh ne Cour d'assises. In a rare move, the court allowed the trial to be filmed because of its historical value. Also, a special court room with seating for an audience of about 700 was constructed.[12] The head prosecutor was Pierre Truche. At the trial Barbie received support from Fran ois Genoud, and lawyer Jacques Verg s.

Barbie gave his name as Klaus Altmann (the name he had used while in Bolivia) and, claiming that his extradition was technically illegal, made the request to be excused from the trial and return to his cell at St Joseph prison. This was granted though he was brought back on 26 May to face some of his accusers, during which he stated that he had "nothing to say".

Verg s had a reputation for attacking the French political system, particularly in the French colonial empire. His strategy at the trial was to use it to expose war crimes committed by France since 1945. Indeed, many of the charges against Barbie were dropped, due to the legislation that had protected people accused of crimes under the Vichy regime and in French Algeria. Verg s further argued that Barbie's actions were no worse than the ordinary actions of colonialists worldwide, and that his trial was selective prosecution. During his trial, Barbie famously stated that: "When I stand before the throne of God I shall be judged innocent".

On 4 July 1987, Barbie was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity. He died in prison in Lyon of leukemia four years later, at the age of 77.


Further reading

  • Peter Hammerschmidt: "Die Tatsache allein, da V-43 118 SS-Hauptsturmf hrer war, schlie t nicht aus, ihn als Quelle zu verwenden". Der Bundesnachrichtendienst und sein Agent Klaus Barbie, in: Zeitschrift f r Geschichtswissenschaft (ZfG), 59. Jahrgang, 4/2011. METROPOL Verlag. Berlin 2011, S. 333 349.
  • Case No. 77, Fn 908 KsD Lyon IV-B (gez. Ostubaf. Barbie) an BdS, Paris IV-B, 6. April 1944, RF-1235.
  • A chapter in this book also follows how top Nazis made their way to Argentina and Latin America.
  • U.S. Samurais in Bruyeres Klaus Barbie found in the Vosges Mountains in Bruyeres after his surgery in Lyon. Barbie rejoins his unit the SIPO-SD of Lyon there and was responsible of the Massacre of Rehaupal in September 1944|year=1993 |publisher=Editions du CPL http://www.hiarmymuseumsoc.org

External links

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