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Klaus Barbie (October 25, 1913 – September 25, 1991) was an SSmarker-Hauptsturmführer (rank approximately equivalent to army captain), soldier and Gestapomarker member. He was known as the Butcher of Lyon.

Early life

Klaus Barbie was born in Bad Godesbergmarker, today part of Bonnmarker, Germanymarker. Barbie was born to a Roman Catholic family. His parents were both teachers. Until 1923 he went to the school where his father taught. Afterward, he attended a boarding school in Triermarker. In 1925, his whole family moved to Trier. In 1933, Barbie's father and brother both 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. While unemployed, Barbie was drafted into the Nazi labor service - Reichsarbeitsdienst.

In September 1935, he joined the Sicherheitsdienstmarker (SD), the special security branch service of the SSmarker that acted as the intelligence-gathering arm of the Nazi Party. Soon he was sent to serve in Amsterdammarker in the German occupied Netherlandsmarker. In 1942, he was sent to Dijonmarker and in November of the same year he was sent to Lyonmarker, where he became the head of the local Gestapomarker.

War crimes

He first set up camp at HĂ´tel Terminus in Lyon. It was his time as head of the Gestapo of Lyonmarker that earned him the name Butcher of Lyon. Evidence suggests that he personally tortured prisoners and is responsible for the deaths of up to 4,000 people. 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 Auschwitzmarker of a group of 44 Jewish children from an orphanage at Izieumarker. After his surgery in Lyon, Klaus Barbie rejoined the SIPO-SD of Lyon in Bruyeres-in-Vosges France where he was also responsible for a massacre in Rehaupal in September 1944.

In 1947, Barbie became an agent for the 66th Detachment of the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC). In 1951, he fled to Juan Peron's Argentinamarker with the help of a ratline organized by U.S. intelligence services and the Ustashi Roman Catholic priest Krunoslav Draganović. Asked by Barbie why he was going out of his way to help him escape, Draganovic responded, "We have to maintain a sort of moral reserve on which we can draw in the future." He then emigrated to Boliviamarker, 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 García Meza Tejada, when the regime forced its way to power in Boliviamarker in 1980.

Barbie was also reported to have worked as an officer for Bolivian intelligence and helped plan concentration camps, and formulate torture and repression techniquies for anti-government rebels while Bolivia was under a violent dictatorship.

While in Bolivia, Barbie managed a company that diverted Belgianmarker and Swissmarker arms to Israelmarker while Israel was still under a post-Six-Day War international arms embargo. A report in the Israeli press alleges that Barbie also had frequent dealings with Israel concerning supplies of Israeli arms to Latin American countries and "various underground organizations."


Barbie was identified in Bolivia as early as 1971 by the Klarsfelds (Nazi hunters), but it was only on January 19, 1983, that the newly elected government of Hernán Siles Zuazo arrested and extradited him to Francemarker.

In 1984, Barbie was put on trial for crimes committed while he was in charge of the Gestapomarker in Lyonmarker between 1942 and 1944. The trial started on May 11, 1987, in Lyonmarker — a jury trial before the Rhône 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. The head prosecutor was Pierre Truche. At the trial Barbie received support not only from Nazi apologists like François Genoud, but also from leftist lawyer Jacques Vergès.

Quite likely under Vergès' direction, Barbie caused sensations on the first days of the trial: he 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 the 26th of May to face some of his accusers, during which he stated that he had "nothing to say".

Vergès 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, thanks to legislation that had protected people accused of crimes under the Vichy regime and in French Algeria. Vergès 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 July 4, 1987, Barbie was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, and died in jail in Lyonmarker of leukemia four years later, at the age of 77.

In popular culture

Barbie is memorably referenced in the film Rat Race, when the Jewish Pear family stops at the "Barbie Museum", thinking it to be a museum of Barbie dolls. They arrive, shocked at its true subject and threatening staff of neo-nazis, who attempt to portray Klaus Barbieas a "loving husband, devoted father, wine connisseur, and three time ballroom dancing champion." Following their awkward departure, the Pear family finds their van destroyed and subsequently steals one of the museum's relics, Adolf Hitler's staff car.


Further reading

  • 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 [2456][2457]

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