Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Klaus Barbie (October 25, 1913–September 25, 1991) was a Hauptsturmführer in the German SS and the Gestapo (secret police) during the Nazi regime. He used the alias Klaus Altmann while he was hiding in Bolivia from 1955.
Barbie was born in Bad Godesberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany and was educated at the Friedrich-Wilhelm Institute. He joined the SS in 1934, immediately after his graduation from the university, and became a member of the NSDAP in 1937.
In 1941, Barbie was posted to the Bureau of Jewish Affairs and sent to Amsterdam and later, in May 1942, to Lyon — there, he earned the sobriquet "Butcher of Lyon" as head of the local Gestapo. He was accused of a number of crimes, including the capture and deportation of forty-four Jewish children hidden in the village of Izieu and the torturing to death of Jean Moulin, the highest ranking member of the French Resistance ever captured. All told, the deportation of 7,500 people, 4,342 murders, and the arrest and torture of 14,311 resistance fighters were in some way attributed to his actions or commands.
From 1945 to 1955, he was protected and employed by British and then American intelligence agents because of his police skills to suppress the leftist resistance to the American and British occupations in Germany. In 1955, after the Americans and British were no longer in need of his services, Barbie, together with his wife and children, escaped to Bolivia with the help of Croatian Nazi priests in the Vatican "ratline". He lived in La Paz under the alias Klaus Altmann, where he became a drug lord and narcotrafficker . He later participated in a Bolivian coup. He was identified in Bolivia in 1971 by the Klarsfelds (Nazi hunters), but it was only on January 18, 1983 that a new moderate government arrested and deported him to France.
His trial started on May 11, 1987 in Lyon – a jury trial before the Rhône Court of Assizes. In a rare move, the authorization was granted to film the trial, for its high historical value. The lead defense attorney was Jacques Vergès, who tried to plead that Barbie's actions were no worse than the ordinary actions of colonialists worldwide, including the French, most of which are never prosecuted, and thus that his trial was selective prosecution which made an arbitrary difference between the victims. The head prosecutor was Pierre Truche . On July 4 of that year, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity and later died in prison of cancer.
He is humorously referred to in the 2001 comedy film "Rat Race", in which a young girl sees a signpost reading "The Barbie Museum" along the highway, expecting it to showcase the popular Mattel doll, Barbie. Upon entering, the family finds it full of skinheads and neo-Nazis.
According to Lucie Aubrac's memoirs, Barbie would engage in "amorous activities" with his secretary while he waited for his victims to regain consciousness.
A documentary film on Barbie's life during and after World War II is available under the title Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie. The film was directed by Marcel Ophuls and amounts to four and a half hours of investigative journalism; it won the Academy Award for Documentary Feature in 1989.
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