LYON (Jul. 2)
Klaus Barbie’s lawyer, Jacques Verges, stunned the court here Thursday with a ferocious attack on the wartime organization of French Jews, L’Union Generale des Israelites (UGIF), which he accused of collaboration with the Nazis in rounding up Jews for deportation to death camps.
Verges claimed the UGIF acted mainly against foreign Jews in order to protect the lives of the old established French Jewish community and used money and valuables seized from the deportees to finance its operations. If his client, the former Gestapo chief in Lyon, is guilty of crimes against humanity, so is the UGIF, Verges thundered.
His prolonged harangue, at times almost violent, was delivered on the second day of the defense’s presentation, one day before the jury is due to retire to consider its verdict. It revealed a Machiavellian defense strategy to indict the victims rather than answer the charges brought against Barbie. On Wednesday, Verges opened the defense by trying to prove that Jews were not the only victims of racism and mass murder.
He and two associates, Nabil Bruaita of Algeria and Jean-Martin Mdemba, a lawyer from Congo, attacked Israelis, Americans, and particularly the French in North Africa for atrocities they implied were as bad or worse than those committed by Nazis.
On Wednesday, the defense team drew shouts and catcalls from the visitors’ gallery. On Thursday the court sat in shocked silence as Verges sought to implicate the UGIF in one of the principal crimes that Barbie is charged with–the arrests on Feb. 9, 1943 of 86 persons in the Lyon offices of the UGIF, of whom 82 were deported and perished in death camps.
He claimed that the UGIF supplied the Gestapo with the names and addresses of foreign and stateless Jews who came to it for help. “The UGIF paid its staff good salaries, but the money for its budget was part of the valuables seized by the Nazis from arrested and deported Jews,” Verges said. “Is Barbie more responsible than the Jewish leadership…for the death of their brethren? Could these arrests have been carried out without the UGIF’s active help?”
He accused the organization of supplying the names and addresses of its own foreign employees to the Gestapo. “They were all dismissed at the Gestapo’s request on March 18, 1943 and deported to death the following day,” he said.
Verges claimed that full documentation of his charges still exists, carefully stored in the Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation in Paris. But no one has access to this material and there was never any real investigation. He said the UGIF leaders were brought before a court of honor organized by the Council of Major French Jewish Organizations (CRIF) “and given a blame. That’s all.”