Jewish Doctor Asked to Treat Barbie in Quandary over Course of Action
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Jewish Doctor Asked to Treat Barbie in Quandary over Course of Action

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The Jewish doctor who was asked by the attorney of convicted Nazi Klaus Barbie to treat his client for cancer has not yet responded to the request.

Professor Leon Schwartzenberg, one of France’s leading oncologists, has been placed in an ethical and moral quandary by lawyer Jacques Verges.

Barbie, the “butcher of Lyon,” who is serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity is said to be suffering for terminal cancer.

Schwartzenberg’s parents died at Auschwitz.

So far, he has not flatly rejected the plea. But, as he said here Tuesday, he has not been officially summoned by the authorities of St. Joseph’s Penitentiary in Lyon, the fortress-like maximum security prison where Barbie is incarcerated.

Moreover, Schwartzenberg noted pointedly, “There are excellent oncologists in Lyon who can assure Barbie of the best available treatment.”

Verges, who carried out an often anti-Zionist diatribe during the 1987 Barbie trial, is asking for his client’s release from prison on grounds that he is a dying man who requires medical treatment.

The situation has caught the attention of Jewish medical and scientific circles in Italy.

Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini, who shared the 1986 Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology, told the Milan newspaper La Stampa that the matter hinged on whether Schwartzenberg was being asked to diagnose Barbie or to treat him.


“The oncologist is called on exclusively to establish how serious is the physical condition of this cruel Nazi. The moral responsibility to decide on his possible release from prison rests with the judge,” she said.

Turin cancer specialist Alberto Cappa agreed that examining a war criminal was different from having to treat him.

“A doctor has the duty to treat a sick person independent of any other consideration,” he told La Stampa.

He added, however, that “here we are not dealing with the question of treating someone but of an examination to suit legal requirements.

“Any good oncologist could evaluate Barbie’s condition. Therefore, I find it understandable why Leon Schwartzenberg refuses to cooperate,” Cappa said.

Sources close to the French Ministry of Justice have indicated that Barbie receives the same kind of treatment in prison as other prisoners and, if necessary, medical specialists will be called in.

According to genetics professor Alberto Piazza in Rome, the request to Schwartzenberg was deliberately provocative.

If he agrees to do the examination, Barbie stands a good chance of ending his days outside of prison, Piazza said.

If he refuses, then “the lawyer for the butcher of Lyon can say to the world that here is a Jew who 45 years after the end of Nazism still refuses to forgive the crimes of someone who is dying.”

(JTA correspondent Ruth E. Gruber in Rome contributed to this report.)

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