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Klaus Barbie

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For more information, see: U.S. intelligence involvement with World War II Nazi war criminals.

Klaus Barbie (1913-1991) was a German Nazi who headed the Gestapo in Lyon, France during the Second World War, and, in 1987, was sentenced to life in prison for war crimes. [1]

Born in the village of Bad Godesberg in 1913, he joined the Nazis while a student at Friedrich-Wilhelm Institute. After graduating in 1934, he went to work for the Gestapo. In 1937 Barbie became a member of the Nazi party.[2]

Wartime activities

On being assigned to France in 1940, he was to La Haya as a member of a research group assigned to assessing the Jewish "situation" there. He was then assigned to Amsterdam, and then to his most notorious posting, Lyon.[2]

On arriving in Lyon in November, 1942, he was ordered to destroy the Resistance and remove all Jews.[3] With respect to the Resistance, the French were especially intent on punishing the murderer of Jean Moulin, a deputy of Charles de Gaulle and key in organizing a unified Resistance. The other act considered especially heinous was the deportation of the Jewish children in a refugee camp.

These were not the only acts, for he was associated with thousands of deportations of resistance and Jews.

Postwar work

After the war, Barbie worked for U.S. intelligence until 1955 "because of his "police skills" and anti-Communist zeal.

Erhard Dabringhaus, a U.S. Army (CIC) intelligence officer in post-war Germany from 1946 to 1952 (i.e., the year that the OPC clandestine service was brought under CIA control), and later a language professor at Detroit's Wayne State University, was Barbie's case officer. Dabringhaus said he was ordered to house and pay Barbie, and did inform his command of Barbie's past actions. [4] According to Dabringhaus, "They told me to forget it for now. When he was 'no longer useful, they would deal with him." They never did.

Bill Moyers quoted Dabringhaus as saying "[Barbie] was wanted by the French as their number one war criminal and somehow we employed a man like that as a very secretive informant." According to Moyers, Barbie worked with ex-Nazi Germans reporting on the Soviets. Once his work was done, the US did not turn him over to the French, but helped him escape, via Italy, to Bolivia. [5]

Since CIC involvement clearly would become public, the United States Attorney General ordered the Office of Special Investigations of the United States Department of Justice to produce an investigative report. Alan Ryan, outgoing head of OSI, detailed the use by U.S. intelligence of Barbie, including his escape using a line that included assistance from a Croatian priest in the Vatican. Ryan concluded that "no other case was found where a suspected Nazi war criminal was placed in the rat line, or where the rat line was used to evacuate a person wanted…" But, he did find, "that officers of the CIC engaged in obstruction of justice… although "prosecution is moot because of the statute of limitations")[6]

A copy of a Guardian citation quoted Dabringhaus about Barbie.[7] "Barbie was so well in with my superiors that he did not ask me for orders, but just told me what he was going to do. In fact he was so well thought of that I was more like his chauffeur."


In 1951 Barbie was seen in Genoa, Italy, before escaping to Bolivia with documents issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross. According to Bill Moyers, the U.S. helped him escape to Bolivia. Once his work was done, the US did not turn him over to the French, but helped him escape. [5]

An analysis of Barbie's U.S. Army file, by the U.S. Interagency Working Group that reviewed wartime records,[8]> reported that in May 1949, the French Ministry of Interior pressed the U.S. military government of Germany, HICOG, for Barbie's extradition. The CIC, however, was concerned both that Barbie knew too much about CIC espionage networks, but also about the adverse publicity if it became known he had been recruited. From the HICOG file,
To have exposed BARBIE to interrogation and public trial would not have been in consonance with accepted clandestine intelligence operational doctrine. . . . [H]e was knowledgeable of high level operations and operational procedures, which would have been compromised. Through procedures in effect at that time, BARBIE was therefor [sic] assisted in 1951 in leaving Europe for resettlement. U.S. Army Intelligence has had no further contact with BARBIE subsequent to his departure from Europe

While in Bolivia, he was also a security advisor to Alfredo Stroessner, President of Paraguay from 1954 to 1989.[8]

Barbie had twice been sentenced to death, but escaped to Bolivia with his family. He obtained citizenship in 1957. [2]He lived there several years under an alias (Klaus Alttman), working primarily as an interrogator and torturer for dictatorships both in Peru and in Bolivia. He helped the Luis Garcia Meza narco-coup in Bolivia in 1980.[2]

Trial and outcome

CIC, therefore, arranged for Barbie and his family to reach South America through a rat-line in Italy. Barbie, using an alias but otherwise living openly in Bolivia, was extradited to France in 1983. [8]

Sentenced to life imprisonment, he died, in prison, in 1991.[2]


  1. British Broadcasting Corporation (3 July 1987), Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie gets life
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 The Outsiders: Klaus Barbie
  3. Jewish Virtual Library (11 May 1987), The Trial of Klaus Barbie
  4. Kohan, John (21 February 1983), "Exorcising Old Ghosts", Time
  5. 5.0 5.1 Moyers, Bill (1987), Extracts from Moyers transcript, The Secret Government: the Constitution in Crisis, Public Broadcasting System
  6. Weitzman, Mark (June 24, 1999), Remarks before the Nazi War Criminals Interagency Working Group, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Los Angeles
  7. Webster, Paul (May 24, 1987), "Barbie's American Links Exposed", Guardian Weekly: 7
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Wolfe, Robert (19 September 2001), Analysis of the Investigative Records Repository (IRR) File of Klaus Barbie, National Archives and Records Administration