LA PAZ, Bolivia (Sep. 26)
Klaus Barbi, alias Klaus Altman, better known as “The Butcher of Lyon,” lives a secure, respected life here. Barbi the gestapo chief of France in 1943 and 1944, surfaced in Bolivia shortly after World War 11, as did many other Nazis of lesser rank and lower profile. Bolivia, after the war and since, has traditionally been a country of rightwing military dictatorships with a notable lack of interest in the backgrounds of wealthy European emigres.
After Germany occupied all of France in November 1942 the gestapo was ordered to pacify the local population. Barbi was the Nazi officer chosen for the job. He immediately established his headquarters in Lyon, the third largest city in France and nascent center of French partisan activity.
It was from his base in Lyon that Barbi shipped thousands of French Jews east to their eventual deaths in German concentration camps. It was in Lyon that he personally ordered the assassination of Jean Moulin, French partisan leader and head of internal resistance, after Moulin was betrayed to the gestapo by a French informer.
For his ruthless suppression of partisan activity, Barbi acquired the nickname of “The Butcher of Lyon.” He is responsible for the deaths of hundreds, possibly thousands of Frenchmen. Some were fighters in the resistance, others who had the misfortune to get in his way were uninvolved bystanders. The most infamous of the many incidents that Barbi-Altman has been linked to is that of herding the entire town of Aires sur Adour into the town church of burning down the church and all the townspeople in it alive in reprisal for partisan activity in the area.
The French Armed Forces Tribunal, a war crimes investigatory and judicial agency, has twice condemned Barbi to death in absentia. His whereabouts were unknown until the late 1960s, when he was identified in Bolivia using a German passport under the name of Altman. In 1970 he took Bolivian citizenship with that assumed name.
OFFICIAL ROLE IN BOLIVIA
One of his closest friends and backers throughout the almost 35-year period after the collapse of the Third Reich has been Gen. Juan Pareda Aspun. During the Banzer regime of 1973-1978 Pareda was Commander-in-Chief of the Bolivian Air Force and concomitantly Minister of the Interior. For these five years Barbi was an “official advisor” to the Ministry, the equivalent of the U.S. State Department and FBI rolled into one massive, intimidating unit. In 1978 Pareda overthrew Banzer in a bloodless, internally-executed coup d’etat.
After locating “The Butcher of Lyon,” and based upon the death sentences handed down against him by the French Armed Forces Tribunal, the French government through its Embassy in La Paz presented documents to the Bolivian government on Feb. 1,1972 asking for Barbi’s extradition. The Supreme Court of Sucre turned down the extradition process on Dec. 6, 1974 for lack of an existing treaty between the two nations. Informed diplomatic sources claim that Barbi’s well-placed friends in government (that hand-pick the Supreme Court) were too powerful for the French.
In 1975 the French government officially asked for Barbi’s expulsion from Bolivia. Again, no results. Over the past five years the French through private contacts have continued to pressure for an executive decree ruling in their favor on the extradition demand. But according to the French Embassy in La Paz, “the Bolivian authorities are not very interested.”
French-Bolivian relations were further exacerbated three years ago when the Bolivian Ambassador to France was assassinated by supposed Latin terrorists operating in Europe. So far there has been no solution to the case and the Bolivians refuse to send another Ambassador to France until there is.
Recently through unofficial channels France attempted to get West Germany involved in the extradition process. Germany’s response was that the crimes Barbi committed did not take place on German soil, therefore the Germans have no basis upon which to involve themselves in the question.
Neither has the Israeli government pressed publicly for Barbi’s extradition. A highly placed Bolivian diplomatic figure, who prefers to remain unidentified, maintains that, “Israel hasn’t done anything officially or extra-officially in the case.” This, it was noted, may be due to Israel’s desire not to jeopardize the fragile position of the Bolivian Jewish community.
Meanwhile, “The Butcher of Lyon” walks the streets of La Paz a free man.