Among the crowd gathered at Lyons-Satolas airport in the chill winter dusk, an agitated matron with a blue-and-white blanket over one arm triggered police suspicions. Then, beneath her clumsy camouflage, the officers found a loaded .22calibre rifle. The concentration camp number tattooed on her forearm was explanation enough. Like thousands of others across France who suffered at the hands of the Nazis, she had a private account to settle with Klaus Barbie, 69, the infamous Gestapo Obersturmführer known as“The Butcher of Lyons.” So explosive was Barbie’s return last week to the city where he is accused of ordering the murder of 4,342 people, nearly all of them Jews, and the deportation of more than 21,000 others, that the government decided to install special security forces around the military prison of Montluc.
More than 100 guards patrolled the bowels of the ancient fortress, the scene of some of the bloodiest “crimes against humanity” with which Barbie is charged. The defiant ex-Nazi, who responded to his jailers only in German, was shifted from cell to cell twice daily to confuse any would-be executioners. Meanwhile, neo-Gaullists throughout France led a public outcry in support of the return of the guillotine, abolished by President François Mitterrand’s Socialist government two years ago.
But the wave of emotion over Barbie’s capture gave way quickly to a wave of unsettling recriminations. An immediate controversy sprang up over who had betrayed the French Resistance leader Jean Moulin, whom Barbie is accused of torturing to death in 1943. As Jacques
Julliard, an editorial writer with the weekly Nouvel Observateur pointed out, Barbie’s trial could become an inquiry into the extent of collaboration under the Nazis—a subject still glossed over in French history texts. Already Simone Veil, a concentration camp survivor who now heads the European Parliament’s Judicial Commission, has expressed her fear that just such a searing national self-examination will take place. “What I wish is that my country isn’t torn apart once more,” she said. “Hate only engenders hate.”
Nor was the criticism confined to France. Well-documented reports emerged of the ways by which the American occupying force in West Germany managed to stymie French efforts to bring Barbie back to justice between 1945 and 1950. During those years, the Americans paid him to spy on the Soviet zone in Germany, as well as on Romania and Czechoslovakia. That information was first aired by Serge Klarsfeld, a Paris lawyer and the son of an Auschwitz victim, who personally unmasked Barbie 11 years ago. But it was promptly backed up by Wayne State University Professor Erhard
Dabringhtaus. As Barbie’s liaison officer and paymaster in U.S. Army counterintelligence in Augsburg for six months in 1948, Dabringhaus said that he was ordered to lie to French investigators about the identity of the boastful turncoat
who was then earning $1,700 a month for spying.
Those revelations spurred a series of congressional probes into charges that U.S. intelligence had helped war criminals to migrate to the United States. They also stirred speculation that the United States assisted other Nazi criminals to establish new identities in North and South America as part of a shadowy counterforce against creeping communism. But both Dabringhaus and Klarsfeld dismiss the theory. Although Barbie’s false papers for Bolivia came through the International Red Cross, Dabringhaus contends: “We only helped him get there indirectly, by paying him.” Agrees Klarsfeld: “I’m sure that a certain number of old Nazis went to Canada and the United States because authorities held their efforts against communism in esteem. It was the Cold War period, after all. But the idea that they set Barbie up as part of a Fourth Reich in South America is ridiculous.”
The French lawyer said that a German editor in Peru first alerted him to the fact that photos of Barbie—which the lawyer’s wife, Beate Klarsfeld, had circulated in 1971—looked remarkably like a Bolivian shipping merchant and police adviser named Klaus Altmann.
For Klarsfeld, Barbie’s capture has a special significance. “He was one of those Nazis who was insolent about having gotten away with it,” said Klarsfeld. Indeed, in 1966 Barbie was expelled from the German Club in La Paz for crowing “Heil Hitler.” As late as 1979, in fact, Barbie told the West German newsweekly Stern: “I have regrets about every Jew I didn’t kill.”
Barbie’s return to justice was also moving for Mitterrand, whose first act as president two years ago was to climb the steps of the Pantheon to lay a rose at the tomb of Jean Moulin, his former chief. Still, his silence after Barbie’s capture showed his awareness of the schism which the trial could open in a country where many survived by coexisting with Nazis like Lyons’ “BUTCHER.”-MARCI McDONALD in Paris.
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