LYON (May. 12)
More than three hours were required to read in detail the “crimes against humanity” with which Klaus Barbie is charged. But as the court clerk intoned the seemingly endless list of murders, tortures, deportations and personal brutality on the second day of his trial here, Barbie, the former Gestapo chief known as the “butcher of Lyon,” sat expressionless in the prisoners dock, as if none of this concerned him.
Only occasionally a fleeting smile crossed his face, suggesting perhaps that the recital of the horrors triggered an amusing memory.
The charge sheet cites three major crimes: the mass arrests carried out at the Lyon Jewish community center on Feb. 9, 1943; the arrest and deportation of 44 Jewish children sheltered at a home in the village of Izieu, southeast of Lyon, in April 1944; and the organization of the last convoy of deportees to Auschwitz on Aug. 11, 1944, almost on the eve of the liberation of Lyon by Allied armies.
The Jewish community center was taken over by the Gestapo at 10:30 that cold February morning. Thirty people in the building were placed under arrest. German soldiers remained inside until late evening, arresting people as they entered. Altogether, 86 men, women and children were seized, including the president of the Jewish community, Simon Badinter.
All but two were taken to the Draney camp on the outskirts of Paris, a transit camp to Auschwitz. On the following morning they were herded into box cars bound for Auschwitz, where all but one perished.
Barbie, as head of Section IV of the Lyon Einsatz Kommando that made the arrests, is responsible for the crime, the charge sheet said.
HUSHED SILENCE IN COURTROOM
Perhaps the most heinous crime was the arrest and deportation of young children in Izieu. A hushed silence fell on the packed courtroom as the clerk read the details. The children separated from their parents or orphaned, were sheltered in what had been a summer camp. Those in charge usually posted a guard along a nearby road to warn if German soldiers approached.
But in April 1944, with the Wehrmacht retreating under allied attack, the war appeared to be close to ending in France and the usual precaution was not taken.
When two army trucks filled with soldiers suddenly appeared in front of the small farmhouse that was the main building of the camp, the inhabitants were taken by surprise, according to the charge sheet. One child, Leon Reifmann, jumped from a second-floor window and managed to hide in the underbrush. All of the others, 44 children and seven adults, were taken to Montluc prison in Lyon and then to Drancy. Only one of the deportees, Lea Fuldblum, survived. She now lives in Israel and will testify at the trial on May 27.
The final deportation convoy was organized by Barbie because the prisons in Lyon “were overfilled” with Jews and resistance fighters, the charge sheet said.
In all, 600 people were taken to the railway station in sealed trucks at 5 a.m. on Aug. 11, 1944. They were chained together two-by-two and shoved by SS guards aboard a train which brought them to Auschwitz-Birkenau. During the 12-days trip they were given no food and very little water. Many died in the box cars. Most of the others were put to death in Auschwitz.
According to surviving eye-witnesses, Barbie personally oversaw the last convoy. He was at Montluc prison and later at the railway station, shouting at the guards to work faster. One eye-witness, Ferdinand Hahn, said Barbie made a short farewell speech to the deportees:
“I am sending you somewhere from where no one ever returns. You shall never see the end of the war. You shall be dead first.”
The charge sheet also relates individual cases, such as that of a French woman, Lise Lesevre, who was personally tortured by Barbie because he suspected that her husband and son belonged to the resistance.
Lesevre, now 82, said in written testimony, “He (Barbie) seemed to take a particular sadistic pleasure in torturing women.” She said that whenever he passed a torture victim lying helpless on the ground “he invariably booted him in the face if it happened to be a Jew.”
Barbie is charged with crimes against humanity because the charge of war crimes, for which he was twice sentenced to death in absentia by French courts some 30 years ago, are covered by the statute of limitations.
The former Gestapo chief served in Holland from the end of May 1940 until the end of June 1941, before he was sent to France.