KLAUS BARBIE: The Butcher of Lyons by Tom Bower

KLAUS BARBIE: The Butcher of Lyons

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The subtitle is an understatement--and anyone not yet convinced will be by Bower's account. A BBC documentary producer and author of a study of Allied mismanagement of German war criminals (The Pledge Betrayed, 1982), Bower has been responsible for a lot of the information already out on Barbie, disseminated through a television program he produced on the SS officer. Here, he fills in the relevant detail. It's impossible not to regard Barbie as a sadist: Bower has numerous accounts of the torturer at work on Jews, Communists, and Resistance figures--including one story of a man who passed in and out of consciousness under torture, while Barbie sat with a beautiful woman on his lap. When the Allies invaded Normandy and pushed through France, Barbie and his men in Lyons--a center for Jews and the Resistance--slaughtered their prisoners in an orgy of killing. Earlier, Barbie's Gestapo had rounded up Jews for deportation, and Barbie himself had earned a reputation as an efficient interrogator and destroyer of Resistance bands. This reputation was maintained despite his complete mishandling of his most famous catch, Resistance leader Jean Moulin. Bower accepts the view of veterans of the Lyons Resistance that Moulin was caught at a meeting raided on a tip from another member of the Resistance (who, he doesn't know). Once fingered, Moulin was doomed. Beaten into a semi-coma without divulging anything, Moulin finally died en route to Frankfurt. Thus Barbie had managed to get no information from the central figure in the entire Resistance movement. Bower describes how the unrepentant Barbie eluded American and British intelligence officers after the war (but also notes the general lack of interest in pursuing war criminals). Once the Soviets became the perceived enemy in the late 1940s, Barbie was recruited by US intelligence, which hid him from the French and then helped him escape to South America. His identity was established more than once during his exile in Bolivia, where he became a successful gun runner (among other things); but it wasn't until Parisian Nazi-hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld set their sights on Barbie that his sanctuary became problematic. (Beate Klarsfeld admitted that they had planned to have Barbie killed if it appeared he would escape their grasp in Bolivia.) Acting through Regis Debray, the former theorist of revolution and compatriot of Che Guevara who now advises French President Mitterand (Barbie aided the Bolivian antiguerrilla forces that killed Che and imprisoned Debray), the Klarsfelds persuaded the French government to press Bolivia for Barbie and to arrange his capture and transport to France, where he now awaits trial. Barbie will deny charges of crimes against humanity--the people he tortured and killed were Resistance figures, he says--and claim, since he was third in command at Gestapo headquarters, that he was just carrying out orders. Bower's taut, richly backgrounded story indicates otherwise.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1984
Publisher: Pantheon