Military Wiki
Klaus Barbie
File:File:Klaus Barbie September 1930.png
Birth name Nikolaus Barbie
Born (1913-10-25)25 October 1913
Died 25 September 1991(1991-09-25) (aged 77)
Place of birth Godesberg, Prussia, German Empire
Place of death Lyon, France (incarcerated)
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Schutzstaffel Abzeichen.svg Gestapo
Years of service 1933–1945
Rank SS-Hauptsturmführer Collar Rank.svg SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain)
Service number
Unit Sicherheitsdienst

World War II

Awards Iron Cross First Class [2]

Nikolaus 'Klaus' Barbie (25 October 1913 – 25 September 1991) was an SS-Hauptsturmführer (rank equivalent to army captain) and Gestapo member. He was known as the "Butcher of Lyon" for having personally tortured prisoners of the Gestapo while stationed in Lyon, France. After the war, United States intelligence services employed him for their anti-Marxist efforts and also helped him escape to South America. The Bundesnachrichtendienst, the west German intelligence agency, recruited him, and he may have helped the CIA capture Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara in 1967. Barbie is also suspected of having a hand in the Bolivian coup d'état orchestrated by Luis García Meza Tejada in 1980. After the fall of the dictatorship, Barbie no longer had the protection of the Bolivian government and in 1983 was extradited to France, where he was convicted of war crimes and died in prison.

Early life and education

Klaus Barbie was born on October 25, 1913 in Godesberg, later renamed Bad Godesberg, which is today part of Bonn. The Barbie family came from Merzig, in the Saar near the French border. His patrilineal ancestors were likely a French Catholic family named Barbier who had left France at the time of the French Revolution.[2]

In 1914, his father Nickolaus Barbie was drafted to fight in World War I. He returned an angry, bitter man. Wounded in the neck at Verdun and captured by the French, whom he hated, he never recovered his health. He became an alcoholic and abused his children.[2]

Until 1923 when he was 10, Barbie, a shy and quiet youth, went to the local school where his father taught. Afterward, he attended a boarding school in Trier and was relieved to be away from his abusive father. In 1925, the entire Barbie family moved to Trier.[2]

In June 1933, Barbie's younger brother Kurt died at the age of eighteen of chronic illness. Later that year, their father died. The death of his father derailed plans for the 20-year-old Barbie to study theology or otherwise become an academic, as his peers had expected. He was passably intelligent without being brilliant, and reasonably popular without being considered a leader. While unemployed, Barbie was drafted into the Nazi labour service, the Reichsarbeitsdienst.[2]

On September 26, 1935 at the age of 22, Barbie joined the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the special security branch service of the SS {Nr. 272 284}, which acted as the intelligence-gathering arm of the National Socialist Party. On May 1, 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.[2]

World War II

After the National Socialist conquest and occupation of the Netherlands, Barbie was assigned to Amsterdam. In 1942 he was sent to Dijon in the Occupied Zone. In November of the same year, at the age of 29, he was assigned to Lyon as the head of the local Gestapo.

He established his headquarters at the Hôtel Terminus in Lyon, where he personally tortured prisoners: men, women, and children alike,[3][4][5] breaking extremities, using electroshock, and sexually abusing them, including with dogs, among other methods. He became known as the "Butcher of Lyon".[6] In Marcel Ophüls's Oscar-winning documentary film Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie, the daughter of a French Resistance leader based in Lyon recounts her father's torture by Barbie – her father was beaten, skinned alive and his head was put in an ammonia bucket; he died shortly after.[4]

Historians estimate that Barbie was directly responsible for the deaths of up to 14,000 people.[7][8] He arrested Jean Moulin, one of the highest-ranking members of the French Resistance and his most prominent enemy figure. In 1943, he was awarded the “First Class Iron Cross with Swords" on behalf of his campaign against the French Resistance and the capture of Jean Moulin by Adolf Hitler.[9]

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 led an anti-partisan attack in Rehaupal in September 1944.

US intelligence and Bolivia

In 1947, Barbie was recruited as an agent for the 66th Detachment of the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC).[10] The U.S. used Barbie and other Nazi Party members to further anti-communist efforts in Europe. Specifically, they were interested in British interrogation techniques, which Barbie had experienced firsthand, and the identities of SS officers that the British were using for their own ends. Later, the CIC housed him in a hotel in Memmingen and he reported on French intelligence activities in the French zone of occupied Germany because they felt the French were infiltrated with Communists.[11]

The French discovered that Barbie was in U.S. hands and having sentenced him to death in absentia for war crimes, made a plea to John J. McCloy, U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, to hand him over for execution, but McCloy refused.[11] Instead, the CIC helped him flee to Bolivia with the help of a "ratline" organized by U.S. intelligence services[12] and the Croatian Roman Catholic priest Krunoslav Draganović. The CIC asserted that Barbie knew too much about the network of German spies CIC had planted in various European Communist organizations to foil their attempts to overthrow their countries democratic governments, but their protection of Barbie may have been as much to avoid the embarrassment of having recruited him.[10]

In 1965 Barbie was recruited by the West German foreign intelligence agency Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) under the codename "Adler" (Eagle) and the registration number V-43118. 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, Barbie made at least 35 reports to the BND headquarters in Pullach.[13] Barbie emigrated to Bolivia, where he lived under the alias Klaus Altmann. He had less embarrassment being employed here than in the democratic states, and had excellent relations with high-ranking Bolivian officials including the-then Bolivian dictators Hugo Banzer and Luis García Meza Tejada and was known for his nationalist and anti-communist stance.[14] While conducting his arms trade operations in Bolivia, he was appointed to the rank of Lt. Colonel within the Bolivian Armed Forces.[15]

Che Guevara

Reviews of the 2007 documentary My Enemy's Enemy, directed by the British director Kevin Macdonald, note that it suggests Barbie helped the United States' CIA orchestrate the 1967 capture and execution in Bolivia of Che Guevara, a revolutionary who was active in Cuba and South America.[16] In 1966 a disguised Guevara had arrived in Bolivia to organize the overthrow of its military government and its replacement with a Communist dictatorship. According to the film, the CIA used Barbie for his knowledge of counter-guerrilla warfare.[16]

Alvaro de Castro, a longtime confidant of Barbie, was interviewed for the film. He said:

He (Barbie) met Major Shelton, the commander of the unit from the US. (Barbie) no doubt gave him advice on how to fight this guerrilla war. He used the expertise gained doing this kind of work in World War Two. They made the most of the fact that he had this experience.[16]

De Castro added that Barbie "had little respect for Che Guevara."[16] In the film, the journalist Kai Hermann says, "[Barbie] always boasted – though I cannot prove it – that it was he who devised the strategy for murdering Che Guevara."[16][17]

Extradition, trial and death

File:Klaus Barbie Bolivian secret police.jpg

Barbie's Bolivian secret police ID card.

Barbie was identified as living in Bolivia in 1971 by the Klarsfelds (Nazi hunters from France). Testimony of the 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 Bolivia in 1980.[18] On 19 January 1983, the newly elected government of Hernán Siles Zuazo arrested Barbie and extradited him to France to stand trial.

In 1984, Barbie was indicted for crimes committed while he directed the Gestapo in Lyon between 1942 and 1944. The jury trial started on 11 May 1987, in Lyon, before the Rhône Cour d'assises. Unusually, the court allowed the trial to be filmed because of its historical value. A special court room with seating for an audience of about 700 was constructed.[19] The head prosecutor was Pierre Truche.

At the trial Barbie was supported by financier François Genoud, and defended by the lawyer Jacques Vergès. Barbie was tried on 41 separate counts of crimes against humanity, based on the depositions of 730 Jews and resistance figures, who cited his torture practices and murders.[20] The father of the then-French Minister for Justice, Robert Badinter, had died in Sobibor after being deported from Lyon during Barbie's tenure.[21]

Barbie gave his name as Klaus Altmann (the name he used while in Bolivia). Claiming that his extradition was technically illegal, he asked to be excused from the trial and returned to his cell at St Paul prison. This was granted. He was brought back to court on 26 May 1987 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 historic French colonial empire. His strategy was to use the trial to talk about war crimes committed by France since 1945. This had less to do with the trial than with Verges' desire to undermine the Fifth Republic. The prosecution dropped some of the charges against Barbie due to French legislation that had protected people accused of crimes under the Vichy regime and in French Algeria. Vergès tried to argue that Barbie's actions were no worse than the supposedly ordinary actions of colonialists worldwide, and that his trial was selective prosecution. During his trial, Barbie said, "When I stand before the throne of God I shall be judged innocent".[citation needed]

The court did not accept the defence argument. On 4 July 1987, Barbie was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in prison in Lyon of leukemia and cancer of the spine and prostate four years later, at the age of 77.[22]

See also


  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5
  3. Bönisch, Georg; Wiegrefe, Klaus (January 20, 2011). "From Nazi to criminal to postwar spy: German intelligence hired Klaus Barbie as agent". 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Hôtel Terminus". 1988. 
  5. Klaus Barbie: women testify of torture at his hands; March 23, 1987; The Philadelphia Inquirer
  6. "Ich bin gekommen, um zu töten". Der Spiegel. 2 July 2007.,1518,489560,00.html. Retrieved 22 January 2011. 
  7. "Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie gets life". BBC. 3 July 1987. Retrieved 1 May 2009. 
  8. "Klaus Barbie ausgeliefert". Der Spiegel. 4 February 2008. Retrieved 22 January 2011. 
  9. "On behalf of his cruel crimes and specially for the Moulin case, Barbie was awarded, by Hitler himself, the “First Class Iron Cross with Swords.”"
  10. 10.0 10.1 Wolfe, Robert (19 September 2001). "Analysis of the Investigative Records Repository file of Klaus Barbie". Interagency Working Group. Retrieved 1 May 2009. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Cockburn, Alexander; Clair, Jeffrey St. (1998). Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press. Verso. pp. 167–70. ISBN 9781859841396. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  12. Terkel, Studs (1985). The Good War. Ballantine. ISBN 0-345-32568-0. 
  13. "Vom Nazi-Verbrecher zum BND-Agenten". Der Spiegel. 19 January 2011. Retrieved 22 January 2011. 
  14. Peter Hammerschmidt: "Die Tatsache allein, daß V-43 118 SS-Hauptsturmführer war, schließt nicht aus, ihn als Quelle zu verwenden". Der Bundesnachrichtendienst und sein Agent Klaus Barbie, in: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft (ZfG), 59. Jahrgang, 4/2011. METROPOL Verlag. Berlin 2011, S. 333–349. (Download:
  15. "He was even given the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Bolivian armed forces.."
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 David Smith, "Barbie 'Boasted of Hunting Down Che'", The Observer, 23 December 2007
  17. Richard Gott, "Major Ralph Shelton obituary", The Guardian, 6 September 2010. Note: Major Shelton commanded the US unit.
  18. "Hearing of Stefano Delle Chiaie before the Italian Parliamentary Commission on Terrorism, headed by President Giovanni Pellegrino" (in Italian). 22 July 1997. Retrieved 1 May 2009. [dead link]
  19. "L'avocat de la terreur". Terror’s Advocate. France: La Sofica Uni Etoile 3. 2007. 
  20. Alain Finkielkraut (1992). Remembering in Vain: The Klaus Barbie Trial and Crimes Against Humanity. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-07464-3. Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  21. Yves Beigbeder (2006). Judging War Crimes And Torture: French Justice And International Criminal Tribunals And Commissions (1940-2005). Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 204–. ISBN 978-90-04-15329-5. Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  22. Saxon, Wolfgang (26 September 1991). "Klaus Barbie, 77, Lyons Gestapo Chief". The New York Times. 

Further reading

  • Peter Hammerschmidt: "Die Tatsache allein, daß V-43 118 SS-Hauptsturmführer war, schließt nicht aus, ihn als Quelle zu verwenden". Der Bundesnachrichtendienst und sein Agent Klaus Barbie, in: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft (ZfG), 59. Jahrgang, 4/2011. METROPOL Verlag. Berlin 2011, S. 333–349.
  • Hilberg, Raul (1982). "Barbie (SS, Lyon)" (in German). Die Vernichtung der europäischen Juden (110 ed.). Olle & Wolter. p. 453. ISBN 978-3-88395-431-8. OCLC 10125090.  Case No. 77, Fn 908 KsD Lyon IV-B (gez. Ostubaf. Barbie) an BdS, Paris IV-B, 6. April 1944, RF-1235.
  • Goni, Uki (2002). The Real Odessa: How Peron Brought the Nazi War Criminals to Argentina. Granta Books. ISBN 978-1-86207-403-3.  A chapter in this book also follows how top Nazis made their way to Argentina and Latin America.
  • Bower, Tom (1984). Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyons. New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 978-0-394-53359-9. 
  • 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 [1][2]

External links

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