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Klaus Barbie, "a model of Third Reich savagery"

1) The Philadelphia Inquirer  
"Klaus Barbie: women testify of torture at his hands"

2) Newsweek
"The Butchers' Tracks"

[Posted 1 January 2004]


The Philadelphia Inquirer  
"Klaus Barbie: women testify of torture at his hands"

Saturday, March 23, 1987


In 1944, when she was 13, Simone Lagrange testified yesterday, Klaus Barbie gave her a smile as thin as a knife blade, then hit her in the face as he cuddled a cat at the Gestapo headquarters in Lyon.

Lagrange, her voice breaking, recalled the arrest of her father, mother and herself on June 6, 1944, the day Allied troops landed in Normandy to drive back the Germans.

Denounced by a French neighbor as Jews and Resistance fighters, Lagrange and her parents were taken to Gestapo headquarters where a man, dressed in gray and caressing a cat, said Simone was pretty.

"I was a little girl, and wasn't afraid of him, with his little cat. And he didn't look like the typical tall, blond SS officer we were told to beware of," she said.

The man, whom she identified as Barbie, asked her terrified parents for the addresses of their two younger children.

"When we said we did not know, he pulled my hair, hit me, the first time in my life I was slapped," she said.

During the following week, the man hauled her out of a prison cell each day, beating and punching at her open wounds in an effort to obtain the information.

"He always came with his thin smile like a knife blade," she said. "Then he smashed my face. That lasted seven days."

Later that month, Simone and her mother were put aboard a sealed train for the Auschwitz concentration camp on a horror ride "which turned us into different people" and that still gave her nightmares 40 years later.

From Auschwitz, where her mother was gassed, the inmates were marched to Ravensbruck, where only 2,000 of the 25,000 people who began the march arrived alive. On the way, Simone saw her father marching in another convoy.

"A German officer told me to embrace him. As we were about to meet, they shot him in the head," she said. "It wasn't Barbie who pulled the trigger, but it was him who sent us there."

Ennat Leger, who lost her sight at Ravensbruck after her arrest, was hoisted to the witness stand in her wheelchair by four policemen.

She was a Resistance fighter nearly 50 years old when she was arrested in 1944, she said, and Barbie and his men "were savages, brutal savages, who struck, struck and struck again."

"Have you heard of the Gestapo kitchens?," she quoted him as saying, in an allusion to the torture chambers.



"The Butchers' Tracks"


February 21, 1983, United States Edition;  Section: International; Pg. 40;  Length: 1721 Words; France;  Byline: Steven Strasser with Scott Sullivan in Paris, Theodore Stanger in Bonn, Barry Came in Rio De Janiero and Bureau Reports

The old man settled quietly into a prison in Lyons last week, reading German magazines and French newspapers, obediently mucking out his quarters like any common criminal. But Klaus Barbie's past was uncommon -- and the memories he summoned up were almost too repugnant to be true. There was the "Butcher of Lyons," a Nazi sadist who could dandle a whore on his knee as he ordered a victim alternately beaten then dunked into ice water; the SS strongman who could snatch a Jewish baby from his mother's arms and put the child on the train to Auschwitz; the Gestapo thug who could lock 100 teen-agers into their schoolhouse, then burn and dynamite it. At 69, Barbie was to face justice back where he had dispensed terror. His case raised awkward questions about who had helped him escape and reopened some old and ugly wounds of war.

Barbie's record was a model of Third Reich savagery. While serving as a decorated German intelligence chief in Lyons between the winter of 1942 and the summer of 1944 he had a hand in 4,342 murders and ordered 7,591 deportations to death camps, by French count. French courts have twice convicted him in absentia and sentenced him to die. Yet Barbie managed to escape in the chaos of postwar Europe -- shielded at one point by U.S. intelligence agents who valued his information on the Soviets, war partners turned adversaries. He fled to South America and built a career flattering strongmen and chumming with other Nazis on the run. When Bolivia's new civilian government finally turned on him and handed him over to France two weeks ago, Barbie was as unrepentant as ever. "What is there to regret?" he told an interviewer after two decades in exile. "I am a convinced Nazi . . . and if I had to be born a thousand times, I would be a thousand times what I have been."

Old Ghosts: Barbie brought more than his insolence back to France. Old Nazi ghosts came back to haunt the resisters and Jewish families who had felt his boot in Lyons (page 42). The French press revived the World War II occupation as front-page news. A chorus of fresh accusers dredged out the long-buried cases of opportunists suspected of collaborating with the Germans. In Washington the administration and the Senate began investigating any U.S. connection in Barbie's postwar escape. "The U.S. was extremely powerful in those days and also arrogant," said French Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld. "There were 20 [French requests] urging the U.S. authorities in Munich to surrender him to the French authorities. They remained unanswered."

Barbie was a Nazi's Nazi -- loyal, brutal but not too smart. An indifferent student, passed high school two years behind his class southwest of Bonn. His SS file approvingly noted his "dark blond sleek hair" and his "consistently strong, positive attitude" toward Hitler's National Socialism -- although it showed one flaw: Barbie explained in writing that his wife's difficulty delivering his daughter had prevented him from fathering additional Aryan children as efficiently as SS policy encouraged. (He was eventually to father a son as well.) His field record made up for any such personal shortcomings. He joined the SS "Jewish section," went to The Hague, where he was promoted to full lieutenant, and later moved on to Amsterdam, where Dutch investigators believe he helped deport 300 Jews to the Mauthausen concentration camp.

In December 1942 Barbie was transferred to Lyons, the major Resistance center in France's "unoccupied zone." Chubby but a snappy dresser, he soon set a personal style as deputy commander of intelligence. At "work," usually in shirtsleeves, he snapped his riding crop during questioning -- although at times he punctuated his demands with blows from a blackjack, a rough cudgel or a simple two-by-four. "He only stopped when you lost consciousness," says Maurice Boudet, a Resistance leader captured by Barbie's men. "Then he woke you up with kicks to the belly, the kidneys, the crotch. If that didn't work, he threw you in a tub of ice water, with cubes floating in it. After the tub, the blackjack: that made your skin swell up. Then he injected acid in your bladder." When somebody bombed Barbie's favorite restaurant, he had five prisoners machine-gunned and left their corpses on grisly display as a warning. When some German airmen were shot nearby, Barbie opened an entire cell block as if to permit an escape. As the prisoners ran, all 24 were gunned down.

Special Project: Barbie's biggest catch was Jean Moulin, the Resistance leader handpicked by Charles de Gaulle to unite the various anti-German groups. As "Max" or "Rex," his noms de guerre, Moulin had called a summit meeting of his Lyons lieutenants in late June 1943. Barbie somehow got word of the gathering, showed up with his soldiers and arrested the bunch. Barbie made Moulin his special project. Gottlieb Fuchs, a Swiss national who served Barbie as an interpreter before winding up in a concentration camp, was among the last to see Moulin -- in Barbie's custody and alive, but terribly beaten. When Barbie left, Fuchs tried to wipe the blood from Moulin's face. "I made a kind of pillow out of the rags of his jacket so his lungs would not fill with blood," he says. "The man was dying. His windpipe was caved in." Barbie eventually shipped Moulin off on a train to Paris, but the prisoner died en route.

As the war progressed toward Germany's defeat Barbie lashed out at entire villages. Among his prime targets were Lyons's Jews, many of whom had fled to the region for sanctuary after the fall of Paris. Barbie's secretaries confiscated jewels and other valuables from people brought in for questioning. Many Jews never lived to see the Auschwitz train platform. "Barbie packed them into cattle cars with no food water," says Michel Thomas, another Lyons survivor. "The trip took weeks, so everyone died. The Germans had to wear gas masks to get rid of the bodies."


War Crimes: It will take the French courts at least a year to prepare for Barbie's trial. The French have begun debating whether to bring back the death penalty, outlawed by the Mitterrand government, for his case. Another problem is to assemble an adequate list of charges: his conviction in absentia have lapsed under the statute limitations. Prosecutors must make a new case based on "crimes against humanity," a class not subject to limitations. Fresh evidence is plentiful -- on the deportation of 41 Jewish children from Izieu; the deportation of 80 rebellious railroad workers from Oullins; the murder and cremation in a baker's oven of a World War I hero and four other people. A trial based on a handful of leftover crimes won't do justice to Klaus Barbie's record. But it will set a precedent for other prosecutions and help France exorcise at least one Nazi monster.


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Footnotes and Further Reading


US sponsorship of Klaus Barbie and much of the rest of the Nazi war crimes apparatus is discussed in the article,

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