The reign of Hitler remains one of the most disastrous events that have occurred in human history. Terrible crimes were committed including the Holocaust, the systematic and deliberate killing of millions of Jews and other people by the Nazis. Klaus Barbie was one of the Nazi officers who unflinchingly committed unforgivable crimes during the war. Here are 5 things you need to know about Klaus Barbie, the power-drunk maniac known as the Butcher of Lyon.
1. He Gained Infamy As The Nazi Chief Of Gestapo In Lyon
Klaus Barbie was only 22 when he joined the German Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst or SD), part of the intelligence network operated by the Nazi regime. He joined in 1935 and began training as an interrogator, but was later posted to Amsterdam as a Gestapo officer in 1940. His main responsibility was to find and capture members of the resistance and Jews in hiding. It was here that he started building his legend. His passion for cruelty led to him being promoted two years later to serve as Gestapo chief in Lyon, a key area affiliated with the French Resistance.
Klaus set up base at the Hotel Terminus and immediately went to work. Despite being only 29 years old at the time, he was considered one of the most brutal and evil high-ranking Nazi officials. He committed heinous and monstrous crimes, presiding over a reign of terror that lasted till the end of World War II, and remains unforgotten till date.
2. He Is Directly Responsible For The Deaths Of At Least 14,000 People
Historians have estimated that at least 14,000 people lost their lives because of the Butcher of Lyon. Some figures have placed his death count as high as 25,000, most of whom consisted of Jews and resistance fighters including Jean Moulin, who was the leader and hero of the French Resistance. Klaus hunted down, arrested, tortured, and murdered Moulin, an act that inspired Hitler to award him the Iron Cross First Class.
One of his most horrible crimes was the capture and deportation of 44 children who had taken refuge at the Izieu Children’s Home. The fact that the children were aged 4-17 did not cause the Butcher of Lyon to take mercy on them; all he cared about was that they were Jewish. The oldest three were shot to death, while the rest of the children were sent to the concentration camps in Auschwitz where they were executed in gas chambers.
3. Klaus Personally Tortured And Interrogated His Victims
While most high-ranking Nazi officers got henchmen and subordinates to do the dirty work for them, the Butcher of Lyon preferred to handle interrogations and torture by himself. He turned Hotel Terminus into a house of horrors, using it as his torture headquarters. He employed all sorts of tactics to get his captives to talk, from electric shocks to acid bath and sexual abuse. Klaus enjoyed torturing people, his pervertedness and depravity knew no bounds.
The daughter of a resistance fighter testified to his gruesome exploits, stating that after Klaus captured her father, he beat him, skinned him alive, then dipped his head in a bucket of ammonia. Klaus earned the name the Butcher of Lyon because of the numerous horrendous crimes he committed and the countless people he killed.
4. He Escaped Arrest With The Help of the US Army Counter-Intelligence Corps After The War
America has done many things that pissed people off across the globe, but one of the worst was the deal it brokered with former Nazi officials, employing them to serve as spies all over Europe and then assisting them in evading capture and trial for their war crimes. The Butcher of Lyon was one of those that ended up on the US Army’s payroll. His job was to monitor the French intelligence service in occupied Germany and report back to his employers.
When his identity was discovered and orders for his arrest given, the US helped Klaus escape to Bolivia, where he changed his name to Klaus Altman and became involved in the trading of arms. Despite being one of the most wanted war criminals, the Butcher of Lyon managed to escape capture for many years and live as a free man until his luck ran out.
5. Klaus Barbie Never Confessed Or Repented Of His Crimes Until He Died
In 1971, when the world had pretty much given up on finding the Butcher of Lyon, a group of determined Nazi hunters led by Serge and Beate Klarsfeld tracked him down to Peru where Klaus was living at the time. The following year, they launched a campaign to have him extradited to France to face trial for his horrific war crimes. Klaus immediately returned to Bolivia where his strong connections with the military government precluded him from being extradited.
Unfortunately for him, the regime fell in 1980 and a civilian administration came to power and allowed him to be arrested and returned to France in 1983. Klaus stood trial in Lyon, where he had gained his bone-chilling reputation decades earlier. He was charged with numerous war crimes, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison in 1987. Throughout his trial, he refused to accept that the things he had done were crimes. He stated that he was proud to have been a commanding officer of the Nazi military, and if he was born a thousand times, he would do everything again a thousand times. The unrepentant Butcher of Lyon died in prison in 1991 from cancer of the blood, spine, and prostate.