Poll Shows Majority of French People Favor Reinstatement of Death Penalty in the Case of Klaus Barbi
Menu JTA Search

Poll Shows Majority of French People Favor Reinstatement of Death Penalty in the Case of Klaus Barbi

Download PDF for this date

A public opinion poll released today showed that a majority of French people favor reinstatement of the death penalty in the case of Klaus Barbie, the one-time gestapo chief in Lyon who will be tried in that city for “crimes against humanity.”

Several prominent personalities here have also called for the restoration of capital punishment for crimes of that nature. Senator Henri Cavaillet, a Centrist Liberal and Gaullist Francois Leotard, proposed that the parliament enact a law that would make the death sentence applicable to Barbie.

But a government spokesman retorted that passing a retroactive law was contrary to the Administration’s basic beliefs. Barbie was sentenced to death in absentia in 1946 and 1952 but capital punishment was abolished in France since then.

The poll, published in the news magazine VSD, showed that 56 percent of the respondents favored the death penalty for Barbie and 81 percent agreed that even 38 years after the end of World War II, war criminals “should be found, apprehended and brought to trial.”

Virtually the same number approved the government’s successful efforts to gain custody of Barbie after he was expelled from Bolivia, the country where he found haven after the war.


The legal definition of “crimes against humanity” in France includes crimes’ committed on racial or religious grounds or because of the victims’ political or ideological beliefs. Barbie, whose wartime activities earned him the title “butcher of Lyon,” is held responsible for the murder of 4,000 Jews and resistance fighters and the deportation of 7,000 others to certain death.

But the prosecution will base its case on two incidents not connected with the French resistance. These involved the arrests and deportation to Auschwitz of 41 Jewish children and 83 Jewish adults.

The Chief Rabbi of Lyon, where the trial will be held, said today that Jews “do not seek vengeance.” He said “if Barbie would renounce his Nazi convictions, if he would ask his victims for forgiveness and if this whole affair will serve as a lesson and example, the trial would have been useful and we would feel satisfied.”

Barbie, for his part, is threatening to reveal the names of prominent French people who allegedly collaborated with him in the arrests, tortures, murders and deportations when he served in Lyon from 1942-1944.

Although the overwhelming majority of French people want Barbie punished for his crimes, the pending trial has triggered at least one anti-Semitic manifestation. In Boussy-Saint-Antoine, a small village near Paris, slogans were smeared on the city hall and other public buildings last night reading “Yes to Barbie and No to the Jews”; “Barbie Shall Win”; and “Six million dead Jews are not worth one Barbie.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund