Nikolaus Klaus Barbie was one of the most cruel and wanted Nazi torturers. Known as the “Butcher of Lyon”, he was responsible for the death of thousands of people. On May 11, 1987, the former Nazi went on trial in Lyon almost half a century later after the end of WWII. Two months later the butcher was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity.
The birth of a Demon
Klaus Barbie was born in Bad Godesberg, Germany, in 1913 in a Roman Catholic family. He learned at the same school were his father taught until 1923 and later on he attended a boarding school in Trier. At the age of 20 his abusive and alcoholic father died, which made Barbie to give up to his initial plans. Instead of becoming an academic, Barbie was unemployed and conscripted into the Nazi labour service.
Aged 22, Barbie joined the SS (Schutzstaffel) and two years later he became a member of the Nazi Party. In 1940 he was sent to Haga with a very clear mission: to arrest Jews and German political refugees who fled from Germany. His successful missions made him the head of the local Gestapo in Lyon, which included 25 officers. In Lyon he had the task to fight the Communists and persecute Jews. He accomplished his mission with an unmatched brutality.
The butcher of Lyon brutally tortured his prisoners: electroshocks, beatings, sexual abuses or water or ammoniac drowning. While torturing his victims, sometimes his actions were accompanied by a piano suave music. The Nazi is also responsible for capturing 44 Jewish children hidden in Izieu.
However, these practises were often used by Nazis and Barbie didn’t attract attention until he captured the French resistance chief Jean Moulin. Barbie tortured Moulin in such an evil way until he died. As a reward for the atrocities committed and especially for the Moulin case, Barbie was decorated by Hitler with the Iron Cross First Class with Swords.
The story continues in Bolivia
With the Vatican’s tacit help, a network led by Roman priest Krunoslav Draganovic is created in order to facilitate the escape of war criminals. With a new name, Klaus Altmann has reached Bolivia. After his arrival, Barbie was recruited by the US Army Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) being part of the so-called stay-behind armies. CIC was a paramilitary group initiated by US and English army to prevent Russian invasion. The group was active until 1990.
Although Barbie was sentenced to death in absentia in ‘50s for war crimes, he lived peacefully with his son and wife mingling with the Bolivian Jews. Moreover, he involved in the political life of Bolivia and later on he gained Bolivian citizenship. An interesting fact is that Barbie was the one who convinced the Bolivian President Barrientos to develop his maritime line, although he did not have access to the sea, but it was a good cover for arm trafficking.
The irony is that Barbie visited France and went to Pantheon. He placed flowers at the grave of the one he murdered: Jean Moulin. However, he was held for a few days by the authorities but he was quickly released. After many years in Bolivia, the butcher from Lyon is offered in exchange for weapons and other favours in 1983. Once he arrived in France, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity. After four years of imprisonment, he died of leukemia at the age of 77.
Some voices are saying that Klauss Barbie was involved by the CIA in order to catch and kill Che Guevarra.