LYON (Jun. 17)
The trial of Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie entered its final phase Wednesday with the beginning of summations by lawyers representing surviving victims of the former Lyon Gestapo chief and the families of those who did not survive.
The first to address the jury was Serge Klarsfeld, who with this German-born wife, Beate, has devoted years to tracking down Nazi war criminals, including Barbie. Klarsfeld is representing surviving relatives of 44 Jewish children arrested by German soldiers at the children’s shelter in the village of Izieu on April 6, 1944 and deported to Auschwitz, where all perished.
One of the key items introduced as evidence during the trial is a “telex” signed by Barbie to Gestapo headquarters in Berlin reporting the arrests. “There can be no doubt left of Barbie’s personal involvement in this crime,” Klarsfeld said.
“Those arrested were children, some only five years old. They can in no way whatsoever be described as terrorists or resistance fighters. Their only crime was being Jews,” he said.
The summations will occupy the next eight sessions of the court, lasting until June 27. In all, 39 lawyers will argue why Barbie should be given the maximum sentence allowed by French law–life imprisonment.
But the question of whether Barbie will be brought to justice may hang on the outcome of a cunning legal maneuver by his attorney, Jacques Verges. Verges petitioned the court Tuesday to free Barbie whether or not he is found guilty of crimes against humanity. He cited French law, which requires that a defendant sentenced for crimes committed during the same period of time must serve them concurrently, meaning that the most serve sentence supersedes all.
Barbie was sentenced to death in absentia in 1952 for war crimes. He avoided the penalty by finding haven in Bolivia. Verges argued that since the statute of limitations on war crimes convictions expired 15 years ago and France, in any case, abolished the death penalty in 1981, Barbie has technically paid his debt to society and must go free.
State prosecutor Pierre Truche will challenge that contention later in the week, the persecutor’s office announced.
Presiding Judge Andre Cerdini will rule on Verges’ plea when the trial ends.
In any case, Barbie will be held in custody pending a decision by the Justice Ministry whether to try him for the murder of French resistance leader Jean Moulin.
The 73-year-old Barbie, arrogant and unrepentant, has boycotted the trial since May 13, two days after it began. French law does not require the defendant to be present in court. It is assumed, however, that he will be ordered to appear in court for the final verdict and sentencing which is expected on July 3 or 4.