Former ABC Information correspondent John Martin recollects the seek for Barbie, and the way it helped expose an American wrongdoing.
KLAUS BARBIE was one of World Conflict II’s most vicious Nazi criminals. An SS officer and head of the Gestapo in Lyon, France, starting in 1942, Barbie was believed liable for the torture and homicide of at the very least 4,000 Jews and Resistance fighters. His cruelties earned him a fame because the “Butcher of Lyon.”
Close to the conflict’s finish, as American and Allied forces started recapturing French soil, Barbie vanished—a 31-year-old Nazi fugitive scrambling into the darkness of a ravaged Europe. He remained a free man till early 1983, when Barbie was arrested and expelled from Bolivia to face trial in France for crimes in opposition to humanity. Nearly instantly, disturbing revelations started to emerge.
Six months after Barbie’s arrest, journalists and U.S. Justice Division investigators had uncovered many details of Barbie’s postwar life, together with that he carried out intelligence work for Bolivia. Most surprising of all was that he had additionally carried out secret counterintelligence work for the US, and that simply six years after the conflict’s finish, in 1951, it was American troopers who had helped Klaus Barbie and his household escape to South America—a clandestine mission that had remained locked in secret information on the State Division, CIA, and Pentagon for 32 years. Individuals—myself amongst them—reeled in shock and disbelief. How might a rustic that had fought the Nazis shield one in every of their worst?
IN 1971, Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, a pair of Nazi hunters from Paris, traced Barbie to Bolivia and persuaded the French ambassador in La Paz to ask for his extradition. Bolivian dictator Hugo Banzer refused, even after Beate flew to Peru and Bolivia in early 1972 and made public appeals. Nonetheless, the episode stripped Barbie of his alias—Klaus Altmann—and his hiding place. Ten years later, there was one other try to carry Barbie to justice.
On October 5, 1982, Bolivians swore in a brand new president, Hernán Siles Zuazo, a democratically elected politician decided to rid his nation of Barbie’s malign presence. Working with French scholar and activist Régis Debray—a good friend of the Klarsfelds—the brand new Bolivian Justice Minister, Gustavo A. Sánchez Salazar, started creating a plan. Three months later, on January 19, 1983, Barbie was arrested on a tax evasion cost and secretly held in La Paz. Close to midnight on February 3, he was positioned aboard a Bolivian C-130 navy aircraft and flown 1,800 miles to Cayenne, French Guyana—the closest French territory. Transferred to a French navy jet, Barbie arrived in France on February 5.
I knew nothing of this just a few days later after I answered my cellphone at ABC Information headquarters in New York Metropolis. I heard a lady’s voice: “If you wish to know something about Klaus Barbie, name Bobby Wilson in Vancouver.”
It was Bettina Parker, a Dutch-born buying and selling government I had met a number of months earlier whereas getting ready an obituary of Leonid Brezhnev, the ailing Soviet chief. Parker was blonde and witty, a pretty businesswoman in her mid-40s. She and Brezhnev had met at a commerce truthful in Moscow and, over time, fashioned a cordial enterprise friendship.
I had by no means heard of Klaus Barbie, although I had lived for a 12 months in France within the Sixties as a New York Instances copy editor. I believed he is likely to be too obscure a determine to curiosity ABC Information viewers. The opposite title was unfamiliar, too.
“Who’s Bobby Wilson?” I requested.
“He’s a global jewel thief,” Parker mentioned, including that Wilson and Barbie had met in Bolivia years earlier and develop into shut associates.
Regardless of the novelty of discovering a standard prison within the mixture of a wartime narrative, I nonetheless wasn’t satisfied there was a narrative to be advised to American viewers. Then Parker dropped a pair of bombshells: she mentioned Barbie claimed each an extended working relationship with American counterintelligence and that he had escaped to South America with the assistance of U.S. troopers—details rumored about however unconfirmed on the time.
“And the way,” I requested in mock disbelief, “does a decent businesswoman named Bettina Parker come to know a jewel thief?” Her reply was weird but plausible: One summer time night within the early Seventies, Parker hosted a celebration at her trip residence in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Mingling amongst her many friends, she noticed a stranger and grew suspicious. She ordered him to depart, satisfied he was in search of objects to steal. The following day she noticed him in a city park, and the 2 started speaking. One thing clicked, she mentioned, and regardless of his admission that he was, certainly, casing her home, they grew to become mates.
As Parker and I spoke, it shortly grew to become clear that there was rather more to study from this weird linking of two diametrically totally different lives. After I reached Wilson by cellphone, he sounded credible—however this wasn’t sufficient for my boss, Jeff Gralnick, government producer of ABC’s World Information Tonight. How did we all know he wasn’t a crackpot? I obtained again on the cellphone and requested Wilson what proof he possessed that Barbie had mentioned what he claimed.
“I’ve audiotapes and photos,” Wilson advised me, “as a result of I used to be planning to write down a e book, and I obtained his permission to file our conversations.”
Klaus Barbie was hiding from justice in Bolivia postwar when he met a global jewel thief, Bobby Wilson (at left, with Barbie, circa 1975), and confided in him. (ABCnews videosource)
The following day, a producer, Sally Holm, and I flew west to affix a cameraman and sound technician in British Columbia. By late afternoon, we have been videotaping Wilson in his modest Vancouver residence. Bespectacled, graying, bearded, and talkative, Wilson was keen to explain what amounted to a doctorate in crime. He defined that he met with Barbie over a three-year interval after being launched in 1972 by a rich, well-connected mutual good friend whose contacts appeared to increase from dictators to drug cartels.
“I’ve a prison background, for some 30 years,” Wilson started, “and [Barbie’s] clearly a really cultivated prison. We felt very comfy round one another.” So comfy that by 1975, Barbie allowed him to tape-record their conversations.
Wilson handed me a cassette. I slipped it into my tape recorder and, as our digital camera rolled, we listened. Wilson had chosen a dialog through which Barbie, talking in damaged however comprehensible English, described his position in wartime torture in Lyon, together with that of Jean Moulin, the favored chief of the French Resistance.
“The conflict historical past, that’s true. That’s completely true,” Barbie advised Wilson.
Within the Fifties, former intelligence brokers had raised unconfirmed suspicions that Barbie had labored for U.S. intelligence in Germany and that he and his household had escaped to Bolivia with American brokers’ assist. What about that? I requested.
Wilson was emphatic. “They grew to become very pleasant in direction of him. And based on him, he struck a cope with them,” Wilson mentioned.
After I requested if Barbie advised him he had persevering with contacts with American intelligence companies—the CIA or others—in South America, Wilson mentioned, “He advised me that on quite a few events, sure.” However after I requested for particulars, Wilson’s reply was maddeningly imprecise. “Nicely, he simply used the time period ‘I’m on very pleasant relationships with the Individuals and have been.’ He talked about the actual fact he’s been in New Orleans; he beloved San Francisco,” Wilson mentioned.
My story on World Information Tonight on February 11, 1983, created a stir in Washington. Inside days, 10 members of Congress wrote letters to the U.S. Justice Division calling for an investigation into how a needed conflict prison like Barbie may need been employed by the U.S. for a number of years after which secretly helped to flee to South America.
Nothing occurred. Even after the New York Instances despatched one in every of its prime correspondents, Ralph Blumenthal, to Vancouver to interview Wilson and report the identical story, the Justice Division nonetheless resisted investigating.
“We aren’t the Division of Historical past,” mentioned United States Lawyer Basic William French Smith.
The Instances editorialized: “Is it actually too a lot to ask the US to confess or deny having shielded one in every of Germany’s most infamous conflict criminals from postwar justice in France?” it learn. “Is it disgrace that ties our Authorities’s tongue?”
Weeks later, in response to a Freedom of Data request I had made, I obtained an Immigration and Naturalization Service doc exhibiting that Barbie, underneath the title Klaus Altmann, had visited Miami at the very least as soon as within the Seventies. That evening, as I ready to report the story, I obtained an thought. I referred to as Allan Ryan, head of the Division of Justice’s Nazi-hunting company, the Workplace of Particular Investigations (OSI). After I advised him what I deliberate to report and requested if the division nonetheless had had no intention of investigating, he mentioned that he would name me again.
Ryan, who had been the OSI’s director since its institution in 1979, described what occurred subsequent in a 1984 memoir of his profession, Quiet Neighbors: Prosecuting Nazi Conflict Criminals in America. Taking my query to imply I believed a coverup was underway, he referred to as the press secretary for Lawyer Basic Smith to inform him what I deliberate to report. A half-hour later, the press secretary referred to as again to say that Smith was authorizing the investigation.
“I used to be jubilant,” Ryan wrote, “however the very first thing I did was to name the correspondent again. I advised him of Smith’s determination, and he re-taped the story 5 minutes earlier than airtime. An embarrassing jab on the lawyer normal—and, extra importantly, the Division of Justice—was averted on the final attainable second, and all it price was a call that ought to have been made two weeks earlier than.”
Ryan’s mildly humorous conclusion: “Thus are sensible selections reached within the government department of presidency.”
Writer John Martin (prime) had met Bettina Parker (under) on an earlier story. In February 1983, she unexpectedly referred to as Martin with a tip about Barbie, and steered him towards Wilson and data he had gathered. (ABCnews videosource)
WHAT THIS TOLD ME was that with out the U.S. Freedom of Data Act, Bettina Parker’s tip, and Bobby Wilson’s surprising allegations, there would possible have been no official examination of one in every of America’s most dishonorable actions.
As a substitute, Ryan led a fact-finding staff that meticulously uncovered Barbie’s transformation from World Conflict II Nazi barbarian to Chilly Conflict counterintelligence wizard. Of their 141-day investigation, a Justice Division staff revealed Barbie’s horrific exploits in Lyon in 1943-44 and his employment by the U.S. Military Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) from 1947 to 1951, when he recruited counterspies to infiltrate the ranks of Communist intelligence companies working within the West from France, Britain, and the Soviet Union and its satellite tv for pc states. The report additionally detailed how American brokers shielded Barbie from seize by French prosecutors and aided his and his household’s escape to South America after they found that his conflict crimes have been extra severe than initially understood.
As Ryan emphasised, “Officers of the US authorities have been instantly liable for defending an individual needed by the federal government of France on prison costs and in arranging his escape from the regulation.”
However why? Why was Barbie shielded from French prosecutors and spirited away by American brokers? The rationale seems to be twofold:
First, a need to cover from the French a secret American determination to spy on French counterintelligence brokers working in postwar Germany and France, spurred by the concept that Communists had infiltrated their ranks. Second, to defend the US from condemnation by its allies for using a infamous Gestapo fugitive.
In his last report on August 2, 1983, OSI Director Ryan left little question concerning the ominous ethical implications: “For the US Authorities to have collaborated in any method with former Gestapo officers was, in any case, a grave misjudgment that, nonetheless unwittingly, betrayed those that had died combating Nazism or falling sufferer to it. To really make use of a person who had been the chief of the Gestapo in a metropolis in France, and to depend on him to advance the pursuits of the US, was incomprehensible and shameful.”
Below the alias Klaus Altmann, Barbie (above, with a bodyguard in 1982) had established a brand new life in Bolivia, the place he allowed Wilson (under) to file some revealing conversations. (AP/Shutterstock)
TO UNDERSTAND HOW shameful it was to spirit Klaus Barbie away to South America, contemplate among the atrocities he and his males have been accused of committing as World Conflict II swirled round them:
In February 1943, Barbie led a gaggle of Gestapo brokers into the Lyon headquarters of the Union Basic of Jews in France. They arrested 86 individuals inside and instantly shipped them to the Auschwitz dying camp in German-occupied Poland.
In March 1944, a Resistance employee named Lise Lesevre was arrested at a Lyon prepare station carrying compromising papers. Questioned by Barbie, she refused to reply and, based on one detailed account, “he struck her throughout the face along with his fists.” Later she was stripped and “hung from a beam by the manacles on her wrists as Barbie lashed her along with his using crop.” Days later, she nonetheless refused to reply questions. She fainted after a very vicious session; when she got here to, a smiling Barbie advised her, “Nicely executed, my pricey. Nobody has ever held out so long as you. It’s almost over now.” Lesevre was then pushed down into a bath of icy water till she felt that she would slightly commit suicide than endure one other session. Lesevre survived, escaped, and went on to testify at Barbie’s 1987 trial in France.
As head of the Gestapo in Lyon, France, Barbie was charged with ridding the town of Resistance fighters and Jews. One in every of his victims, Lise Lesevre (prime), survived to testify in opposition to him. Many others—most infamously a gaggle of Jewish youngsters (under) and their academics, and Resistance chief Jean Moulin (backside)—didn’t. The kids’s group was gassed; Moulin died of torture. (Laurent Rebours/AP/Shutterstock)
(Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone by way of Getty Photos)
(adoc-photos/Corbis by way of Getty Photos)
“He was a monster,” recalled a Resistance fighter quoted by Ryan. “He struck with no hesitation. He stopped after we fainted. Then he made us come to by kicking us within the abdomen, within the kidneys and stomach.”
“He didn’t contact me,” mentioned one other ex-prisoner, “he solely seemed on” as his males burned the prisoner’s ft with a sizzling iron.
On April 6, 1944, on Barbie’s orders, 44 youngsters and their seven supervisors from Izieu, a Jewish orphanage north of Lyon, have been compelled onto vehicles, pushed away, after which placed on trains to Auschwitz.
On August 20, 1944, Barbie’s males handcuffed 110 prisoners suspected of Resistance actions and shot them to dying with machine weapons, burned their our bodies, after which, with out clarification, dynamited the home the place that they had been held captive.
Allan Ryan, head of the Justice Division’s Workplace of Particular Investigations, led an inquiry into Barbie’s conflict crimes and postwar life—together with work carried out for the U.S. (UPI)
TO UNDERSTAND WHY American counterintelligence brokers have been keen to make use of a loathsome Nazi fugitive, contemplate the daybreak of the Chilly Conflict: Enemies grew to become allies nearly in a single day because the Western powers noticed a looming menace from the Communist world. Soviet forces clamped down in Jap Europe. Would France, Belgium, and the Scandinavian nations fall in elections to Communist political events?
Winston Churchill noticed an “Iron Curtain” descending on the continent, closing off almost a dozen states—together with Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and a piece of Germany, plus Bulgaria and Romania.
In China, a Communist regime took over from a Nationalist ally of the US in 1949, and elements of Southeast Asia grew to become Communist allies or have been dominated by repressive regimes. “Who misplaced China?” was a rallying cry of conservative ideologues.
A few of this concern was fed by paranoia, and a few by stable evaluation. Whichever it was, the second produced a counterintelligence pivot inside a matter of months after the tip of the conflict. Within the rush to recruit expert brokers, Barbie introduced himself as shrewd and immensely succesful.
An American CIC agent, Robert Taylor, made the primary contact with Barbie. Taylor had been launched to Barbie by Kurt Merk, additionally on the CIC payroll and previously a specialist with the Abwehr, the German wartime navy intelligence service. Merk advised Taylor he had ran into Barbie in a prepare station and remembered him as “top-of-the-line counterintelligence males in France throughout the German occupation.” Taylor mentioned he acknowledged Barbie’s title from a needed fugitive record however determined, alongside along with his CIC commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Dale Garvey, to rent him with out telling their superiors.
The rationale? Each males noticed the rising confrontation with Communist nations, involving spies and navy forces, as past their means to include. They wanted assist to confront their Chilly Conflict counterintelligence adversaries.
On the finish of World Conflict II, there had been monumental stress to get American troops who had served for years residence and out of uniform. Their American replacements have been inexperienced; German conflict veterans, professing robust anti-Communist beliefs, appeared completely suited to step into intelligence work. A New York Instances correspondent and columnist, Drew Middleton, had noticed in 1945 that the “American officers who chosen and employed them have been usually unaware of the complicated points concerned, unfamiliar with the German language and Germany’s historical past, and, in lots of circumstances, favorably impressed with the cleanliness and pleasant method of the Germans they got here involved with.”
Even by the late Nineteen Forties, not all U.S. counterintelligence officers knew of Barbie’s conflict crimes, and lots of of those that did know felt he had develop into far too educated about American spy operations to show him over to the French, who had begun to hunt his extradition for conflict crimes in Lyon.
OSI Director Ryan mentioned that “any try to jail him at that time would have risked the prospect that if he escaped, he would go to the French or British—and carry all his CIC secrets and techniques with him.”
Eugene Kolb, one in every of Barbie’s supervisors, was unaware as late as April 1947 that Barbie was a fugitive. He advised me at his residence in Maine in 1983 that “there have been no costs of conflict crimes in opposition to him on the time.” He noticed Barbie as an necessary asset. He was “rattling helpful and rattling good at it.”
The writer interviews Eugene Kolb, Barbie’s handler within the military’s Counter Intelligence Corps, who referred to as him “rattling helpful and rattling good at it.” These abilities gained Barbie and his household safety on his flight from justice, together with the faux identification card under. (ABCnews videosource)
Even so, Barbie’s potential for drawing condemnation on the US due to his conflict crimes was why the U.S. Military’s 430th Counter Intelligence Corps jumped on the likelihood to make use of the so-called “Rat Line” to take away Barbie from its ranks and from Europe in 1951. On March 9, two U.S. Military CIC officers boarded a prepare in Augsburg, Germany, sure for Salzburg, Austria. Onboard with them have been Klaus Barbie; his spouse, Regine; daughter, Ute Regine, 6; and son, Jorge, 2. On the twelfth, the household, now unaccompanied, boarded a prepare from Salzburg to Genoa, Italy. There, a Croatian Catholic priest, Krunoslav Draganovic, met them and helped them safe cast journey paperwork paid for by the U.S. Military. Then, on March 22, 1951, the household sailed for South America, arriving in Buenos Aires on or round April 23. From there, the household—now often called the Altmanns—traveled onward to Bolivia, the place they met their immigration sponsor, one other Croatian priest, Father Roque Romac.
BUTTRESSED BY NEARLY 600 PAGES of beforehand categorized paperwork, the 1983 Ryan report made its method by a bureaucratic labyrinth. It quickly grew to become clear that the statute of limitations had way back lapsed: whereas France might nonetheless prosecute Klaus Barbie for crimes in opposition to humanity, the U.S. couldn’t prosecute the American troopers who had helped him. However the circumstances have been so grave, Ryan argued that an distinctive admission of guilt was wanted. Thus, the US was led to make a sleek and extraordinary assertion of apology to France’s authorities and residents as they ready for Barbie’s trial.
“Regardless of the verdict,” Ryan wrote, “his appointment with justice is lengthy overdue. It’s a precept of democracy, and the rule of regulation that justice delayed is justice denied. If we’re to be trustworthy to that precept—and we must be trustworthy to it—we can’t fake that it applies solely inside our borders and nowhere else. We’ve delayed justice in Lyon.”
The response in the US and France was swift and powerfully optimistic. “How uncommon it’s for a proud and highly effective nation to confess shabby habits,” learn an editorial within the New York Instances. “Shameful because the episode was, the admission of blame the US made—first to itself after which to France—goes far to redeem nationwide honor.” The editors endorsed Ryan’s conclusion: “Mr. Ryan argues eloquently that expediency shouldn’t be the one guidepost [and his] report summons the braveness to say that the US is sorry.”
The French Minister of Justice wrote to Lawyer Basic Smith to reward Ryan’s report: “This significantly rigorous work reveals a priority for the investigation of the reality that honors your nation.”
My favourite observe got here from Allan Ryan himself. Inside the quilt of my copy of Quiet Neighbors, his e book concerning the investigation, he wrote: “To John Martin…who cracked the Barbie case whereas I took all of the credit score.”
IN AN UNEXPECTED WAY, an unbelievable friendship between a jewel thief and a conflict prison had enabled the US to seek out an honorable conclusion to its dishonorable dealings on the finish of the conflict. Bobby Wilson’s revelation was a main cause that the U.S. Division of Justice dropped its resistance to analyze.
Wilson, although, didn’t settle for one Ryan conclusion: “There is no such thing as a indication that Barbie ever reported to the CIA, was employed or paid by that company, or was notified, instantly or not directly, of issues that the CIA wished to assemble materials on,” Ryan wrote. “Interviews of CIA officers have been in line with this truth.”
Wilson was satisfied—as he famous within the e book he ultimately did write, 1984’s The Confessions of Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon—that Barbie and the CIA had maintained a working relationship for a few years in South America, though he was unable to give you supporting proof.
Barbie’s position in Bolivian intelligence is better-established. It started when Bolivian dictator René Barrientos seized energy in 1964 and prolonged to 1978 and past, into the rule of his extra infamous successor, Hugo Banzer. A staff of British journalists who interviewed Bolivian authorities officers within the wake of Barbie’s expulsion discovered that he had been given using an workplace within the Ministry of Inside and labored with Division 4, the intelligence part of the Bolivian military. That was the unit that monitored political opponents of the federal government—targets who quickly suffered remedy much like members of the French Resistance.
In 1987, 4 years after he was expelled and returned to France, Barbie was convicted in a French courtroom of wartime crimes in opposition to humanity and sentenced to life in jail. He died of most cancers at age 77 in Lyon’s Montluc jail in 1991.
A handcuffed Klaus Barbie is led by policemen in Lyon, after he was convicted on July 4, 1987, of crimes in opposition to humanity and sentenced to life in jail. Barbie was often called the “Butcher of Lyon” for his brutal actions as Gestapo chief on this metropolis. (AP Photograph/Laurent Rebours)
I’m proud to have performed a job in reporting his story. Proud that it prodded my nation to do the precise factor. And grateful to have obtained the assistance I wanted from two exceptional individuals—Bettina Parker and Bobby Wilson—to interrupt the story. That Klaus Barbie escaped justice for greater than three a long time represents a black mark within the fast post-World Conflict II historical past of the US—but his story additionally represents a refreshing willingness by a robust nation to confess a mistake and apologize in an honorable style. ✯
This text was printed within the February 2020 difficulty of World Conflict II.