a.k.a. the Butcher of Lyon
(1913 - 1991)
Nikolaus Barbie was born in the village of Bad Godesberg, Germany on October 25, 1913. He died September 25, 1991 of leukemia while serving out his life sentence at a prison in Lyon, France.
"Of course I am proud of what I did during the war. If it hadnít been for me, France would be a Soviet Socialist Republic by now." -- Barbie during an interview, Bolivia, 1974
"He had the eyes of a monster, He was savage. My God, he was savage! It was unimaginable. He broke my teeth, he pulled my hair back. He put a bottle in my mouth and pushed it until the lips split from pressure." -- Ennat Leger (part of her testimony against Barbie)
Fathered by a WW1 veteran, Klaus Barbie attributed the disciplinarian tirades he faced as key to the person he came to be, a personality that would cause the demise of thousands of people. Only excelling in languages, Klaus managed to get his degree, but was left unemployed, and was only able to find solace in the newly formed Nazi Partyís ideology and solidarity.
Early in April 1933 Klaus joined the Hitler Youth, further cementing his devotion to the party. Two years later he joined Himmlerís SS and in a matter of time, his commitment earned him a place amongst the elite SD security service. Specializing in undercover work, he and his unit were given the task of cleaning up Berlin ĺ breaking up whorehouses and homosexual nightclubs. These tasks had a direct impact on the remainder of his life.
Barbie began work gathering information about the Jewish situation Hague, and then Amsterdam. His methods of brutality while rounding up and deporting Jews, was excessive even by Gestapo standards. Klaus Barbie was also in charge of the Gestapo in Lyon France from November 1942 - August 1944. The SS wanted to cleanse this city quickly, and knew Barbie would have no trouble killing civilians; Barbieís Section IV Gestapo was responsible for the killing of hundreds of French resisters as well as the deportation of thousands of Jewish people to death camps. On top of these acts, Barbie was also known to pick random people of the streets and take them back to his headquarters for torturing.
The two most horrendous acts focused on in the case against Klaus Barbie were his capture and deportation of forty-one Jewish children hiding in the village of Izieu and the torture and death of Jean Moulin, a high-ranking member of the French resistance. However, it wasnít till over forty years after the warís end, that Barbie was (able) to be brought to justice.
Immediately following the war, The American Counterintelligence Corps protected and employed Klaus Barbie, feeling his skills would be a valuable asset in protecting Cold War West Germany. With the help of CIC he settled in Bolivia under the name Klaus Altmann. Not surprisingly, he worked as an interrogator and torturer for the dictatorships in Bolivia and Peru.
Identified by Nazi Hunters in 1971, it wasnít till 1983 that Klaus Barbie was finally able to extradited out of Bolivia to France. Interestingly it is at this time that the U.S. offered a formal apology to France.
Finally on July 3, 1987, Klaus was tried for crimes including deportation, murder, torture, rape, and as a perpetrator of Hitlerís Final Solution.
Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie showed little compassion to any of the thousands of people who he (directly or indirectly) is responsible for torturing or killing. Barbie oversaw over 4000 murders while in Lyon as well as the capture and torture of over 14000 members of the French Resistance. There wasnít even a shred more compassion towards the forty-one children he rounded up, some as young as 3, the rest, no older than 13.
It is unsettling that Klaus Barbie was able to live a successful life with his family, protected first by the United States, and then by Bolivia, while he had ended so many people futures. It is also troubling that the United States was so interested in him. Yes he was party to important information, but to put him on and keep him on the U.S. payroll, even after France asked the U.S. to extradite him so they could try him for war crimes is hard to understand. By not extraditing Barbie, he soon found a place to use his brutality once again, working as an interrogator and torturer in Peru and Bolivia. When he was finally sentence to life in prison, he only lived out four years of his sentence; meanwhile he had been free for almost forty.