Background

  • Nikolaus “Klaus” Barbie was an SS officer and Gestapo member.
  • He was known as the “Butcher of Lyon” for having personally tortured French prisoners of the Gestapo while stationed in Lyon, France.
  • In 1943, he captured Jean Moulin, the leader of the French Resistance, and had him slowly beaten to death.
  • In 1944, Barbie deported 44 young Jewish children and their seven teachers hiding in a boarding house in Izieu to the Auschwitz extermination camp.
  • After the war, United States intelligence services employed him for their anti-Marxist efforts, and also helped him escape to South America.
  • Barbie is suspected of having had a hand in the Bolivian coup d’état orchestrated by Luis García Meza Tejada in 1980.
  • After the fall of the dictatorship, Barbie no longer had the protection of the Bolivian government, and in 1983 was extradited to France, where he was convicted of crimes against humanity and died in prison of cancer.

Key Legal Issues

  • There were two large obstacles for the prosecution to clear before it could formally try to convict Barbie:
  • First was choosing the crimes for which Barbie should be tried and
  • Second was figuring out if French law would permit Barbie to be tried for those crimes.
  • The prosecution had split into two camp: those who wanted Barbie tried for the murders, torture, and coercion he used against the Resistance;
  • and those who wanted Barbie punished for his role in the Final Solution.
  • All charges against Barbie that could be considered “war crimes” had to be dropped under the Statute of Limitations because Barbie had been gone for more than twenty years.
  • if the prosecution could prove that Barbie had the intent of following an “ideological hegemony” when he killed, tortured, and deported, then he could be found guilty of “crimes against humanity.”

Case

  • Barbie was charged with 177 crimes against humanity.
  • The jurors are fairly young men and women because both the defense and the prosecution hoped that the young jurors, who not adults during the Occupation, would have a more objective view of Barbie’s crimes. In addition, Barbie’s punishment would have even more weight if he were tried by those who never suffered at his hands.
  • Elie Wiesel was the star witness of this trial.
  • The defence was trying to establish that his crimes were merely part of a soldier’s duty and therefore not testable.
  • For every crime attributed to Klaus Barbie, the defence would find a corresponding crime attributed to the French, claiming that the French judiciary system was corrupt.
  • the prosecution was forced to prove and reprove what distinguished the Holocaust from ordinary acts of war or criminality.
  • Significance: France was forced to acknowledged its role in implementing the Final Solution. The French public pays a great deal of attention to genocide or even the potential of genocide in any region of the world.
  • The jurors found Klaus Barbie guilty of “crimes against humanity” and for that act sentenced him to spend the rest of his life in prison, France’s highest punishments.