The lawyer for Klaus Barbie claims his client was not responsible for the deportation and murder of Jews in France. This is revealed in an interview with Jacques Verges, attorney for the man Known as “The Butcher of Lyon,” in a segment of the CBSTV news program, “West 57th Street,” to be aired Tuesday, May 5. Verges, as well as former resistance fighters and a Jewish survivor, were interviewed in Lyon by CBS correspondent Steve Kroft.
Moreover, according to the weekly documentary program, the French, themselves, are facing the upcoming trial of accused Nazi war criminal Barbie with little enthusiasm, if not outright fear of exposure of some of their most cherished national heroes. And it is expected that the role of the United States government in hiding Barbie and helping him escape to South America will be revealed in embarrassing detail.
The trial, scheduled to begin May 11 after a long delay, will “shatter the big myth of France having been mainly a country of people who were indifferent during the war, or members of the resistance,” says Olivier Todd, a French writer and commentator, who was interviewed for the program.
Kroft says Verges’ strategy is “to shift the blame to the French,” to claim that Barbie was “nothing more than a middle manager.” Verges told Kroft — who describes the lawyer as “a defender of terrorists” and “champion of the Third World” — that his client was not head of the Gestapo in Lyon, but rather “number three in command.” Charges against Barbie comprise “a coalition of the reality and the propaganda,” according to Verges. “The trial will be a mirror in which French society will see their face,” Verges said. Michel Thomas, a former resistance fighter who later worked for U.S. Army intelligence and is one of the few living witnesses who can place Barbie at the scene of his alleged crimes, told Kroft that he was interrogated at gunpoint under Barbie’s supervision at a French clearing house for the registration of Jewish refugees. Thomas was released, a fate not shared by the 86 Jews present at the time.
“They were all deported and killed,” says Thomas, who now is an American citizen. Thomas says that U.S. complicity in helping Barbie escape “is a betrayal of the death of over 200,000 young Americans who fought and died in order to save us from the evil that was represented and symbolized by Klaus Barbie.”
But Verges rebuts Thomas’s claims as an eyewitness, saying that Thomas was “the single witness to have seen Barbie in this place.” Verges contends that “Thomas is lying, of course.”
Another former member of the resistance who was imprisoned, Mario Blardon, told Kroft that under Barbie the tortures were multiple. He claims Barbie had a torture chamber in his own office, where “women were tortured equally.” Blardon says that Barbie “was sadistic enough to have had a police dog — a German shepherd–that was trained specifically to rape women. I saw that with my own eyes.”
Simone La Grange, a French Jewish survivor, told Kroft she was only 13 when she first saw Barbie. He beat her repeatedly, she says, and was personally responsible for the death of her older sister and two nephews. Her father was shot, her mother burned to death at Auschwitz.
Verges says that Barbie “has nothing to do with this trial. This concerns the people who have these kind of nightmares.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.