Barbie on trial

Barbie on trial

On 6th April 1944, Klaus Barbie, head of the Lyon Gestapo, signed a telex announcing the arrest and deportation to Drancy of the 44 Jewish children and 7 adults at the Izieu home:

LYON 6th April 1944 – 20h10h
To: BDS – ABTL 4B – Paris
Subject: Jewish children’s home – Izieu – Ain
The Jewish children’s home at Izieu-Ain was cleared this morning. In all, forty-one children, aged between three and thirteen years, were arrested. Furthermore, all the Jewish personnel, ten individuals including five women, were also arrested. We could secure neither cash nor foreign money.
Transportation to Drancy will take place on 7th April 1944.
Sipo and SD commander, Lyon 4 B 61/43, by order of SS Lieutenant Barbie.

In this document, the three teenagers Fritz Loebmann, Théo Reis and Arnold Hirsch, aged over 15 years, were included with the adults. This explains the reference to 41 children and 10 adults.

The manhunt


At the end of the war, Klaus Barbie escaped like many other Nazis. Taking advantage of the “Cold War”, he was recruited by the American secret services, who protected him – notwithstanding the fact that France was seeking him for his crimes committed against Resistance workers and especially against Jean Moulin – and allowed him to leave for South America in 1951. A legally obtained immigration visa enabled him to live in Bolivia with his family after acquiring a new identity: Klaus Altmann.

In 1952 and 1954, a French military court in charge of judging German officials sentenced Klaus Barbie to death in absentia for war crimes.

In the early 1970s, he was sought by Mr. and Mrs. Klarsfeld, assisted by Fortunée Benguigui and Ita-Rose Halaunbrenner whose children had been arrested at Izieu, and was seen in Peru; but he escaped to Bolivia.
In 1983, following the fall of Bolivian dictator Banzer, Barbie was arrested on various charges of fraud and was expelled to French Guyana. He was then arrested on French territory and could therefore be tried.


The Lyon trial in 1987


The Klaus Barbie legal investigation was led by Judge Christian Riss. It took place between February 1983 and October 1985, a necessary time period for finding witnesses 40 years later and for clearly determining which events fell within the notions of war crime and crime against humanity.
A 1985 order issued by the French Court of Appeal established that crimes committed against Resistance workers (war crimes) become crimes against humanity outside the statute of limitations, when they are perpetrated “systematically” “on behalf of a State implementing a policy of ideological hegemony” against opponents of this policy.
On 11th May 1987, Klaus Barbie’s trial opened before the Rhône Department criminal court in Lyon. André Cerdini was the presiding judge and Pierre Truche was the public prosecutor.

Klaus Barbie was tried for:


  • The 9th February 1943 raid on the “Union Générale des Israélites de France” (UGIF) Lyon committee premises in rue Sainte Catherine, followed by the arrest of ninety-six people, of whom ninety-four were deported.
  • Deportation of approximately six hundred people on 6th August 1944 by rail convoy from Lyon. French Resistance workers and hostages were transported to Dachau (men) or to Ravensbrück (women); Jews were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they arrived on 22nd August 1944.
  • Arrest at the Izieu children’s home and deportation of forty-four children and seven adult helpers, all Jewish.
  • Murder, preceded by torture, of Marcel Gompel, professor at the Collège de France, a Jew and Resistance worker.
  • Deportation of twenty-one Jews and thirty-eight Resistance workers, arrested individually.


During the seven and a half weeks of the trial, three sessions between 27th May and 2nd June 1987, were dedicated to the Izieu raid.


A number of witnesses, associated with the Izieu home story, appeared:


  • Sabine Zlatin, founder of the home,
  • Léa Feldblum, helper at the home, who travelled from Tel Aviv,
  • Léon Reifman, medical physician at the home,
  • Gabrielle Tardy (maiden name Perrier), primary school teacher appointed to the home in October 1943
  • Paulette Roche-Pallarés, helper at the home during the summer of 1943
  • Fortunée Benguigui, Ita-Rose and Alexandre Halaunbrenner, mothers and brother of children arrested on 6th April 1944 at Izieu
  • Paul Niedermann, Adolphe Waysenson and René Wucher, who stayed as children at the Izieu home
  • Julien Favet, eye-witness during the raid
  • Robert Mériaudeau and Henri Perret, mayors of Brégnier-Cordon and Izieu communes.


Counsel for the plaintiffs included Roland Rappaport representing Sabine Zlatin, and Serge Klarsfeld (for the French association of sons and daughters of French Jewish deportees) representing several families of children arrested at the Izieu home. Ugo Iannucci represented Léon Reifman; Alain Jakubowicz represented other families of Izieu children and the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism.

Klaus Barbie did not attend the sessions under the advice of his lawyer Jacques Vergès.
On 4th July 1987, Barbie was found guilty of the five crimes against humanity for which he was tried. The jury granted him no mitigating circumstances.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Klaus Barbie died on 25th September 1991 at Saint-Joseph prison in Lyon, a month before his seventieth birthday.


A trial for history


The 1987 Klaus Barbie trial in Lyon struck a powerful chord.
It was the first trial and the first sentencing in France for crimes against humanity.

Rigorously conducted, filmed for posterity and given wide media coverage, the Barbie trial constitutes an educational work in a context in which, since the 1970s, revisionism has been making its harmful voice heard. Many classes of pupils attended the court sessions. The words of the witnesses, recounting before the law the reality of Nazism and of Jewish persecution and extermination, prompted a strong reaction in the French population.

This trial was the sign that no single executioner is above the law. At the same time, the trial was a solemn way of recalling the historical reality of the events.