Nikolaus Barbie was an army captain in the SS and member of the Gestapo during World War II. After the war, U.S. intelligence recruited him to gather intelligence for their anti-Communist efforts. To avoid possible conviction by the French for his war crimes he fled to South America where he became an arms dealer and Lt. Colonel for the Bolivian Armed Forces.
Klaus Barbie was born October 25, 1913 in Godesburg Germany. A year after he was born, his father was drafted by the German army to fight in World War I. Klaus’s father returned from the war a bitter angry man who became an alcoholic and routinely abused his children.
On September 26, 1935 at the age of 22, Barbie joined a special security branch of the SS which sole purpose was to gather intelligence.
In 1942 Klaus Barbie was assigned as the head of the local Gestapo in Lyon, France during the Nazi’s occupation. While in France he tortured many men, women, and children in various ways. He would break extremities, use electroshock and sexually abuse his victims; this earned him his nickname the “Butcher of Lyon”. Many Historians suggest that Klaus Barbie was responsible for the death of over 14,000 people. He was recognized by his superiors for capturing Jean Moulin who was a high ranking member of the French Resistance and received the First Class Iron Cross with Swords medal. In April 1944 he deported 44 Jewish children from an orphanage in France to an Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
After the war ended, Barbie was recruited by British intelligence. Later in 1947 he switched over to the 66th Detachment of the US Army Counter Intelligence Corps to provide information on the Bavarian branch of the Communist party. The US used Klaus and other former Nazis to report to the United States on British interrogation techniques. The US also wanted to find out the identities if former SS officers that the British were using for their intelligence purposes. Later the US utilized him to spy on the French occupied zone of Germany because the United State’s feared that the French had Communist connections.
The French eventually discovered that Klaus Barbie was still alive and that he had been spying for the United States. In 1949 the French demanded that the United States government hand Klaus over to them so that they could try him for war crimes. The United States intelligence service ultimately refused to hand Barbie over and helped him flea to Argentina with the help of a Croatian Catholic priest by the name of Krunoslav Draganović.
Eventually, Klaus Barbie made his way from Argentina to Bolivia. He went under the alias of Klaus Altmann and supported himself and his family as an auto mechanic, but eventually he would return to his career in espionage. Through strong relationships with Bolivian military officials and his strong anti-communist stance, Klaus was appointed to be a Lt. Colonel of the Bolivian Armed Forces.
A pair of Nazi hunters by the names of Serge and Beate Klarsfeld from France eventually found out that Klaus Barbie had been living in Bolivia in 1971. The Klarsfelds along with the French government advocated the return of Klaus Barbie. In 1980 the “Cocaine Coup” took place in Bolivia removing its military dictator from power. On January 19, 1983 the newly established government arrested Klaus Barbie and returned him to France. In 1984 he was indicted for the war crimes that he committed from 1942-1944 in Lyon, France. He was tried on 41 counts of crimes against humanity based on the testimony of 730 Jews and resistance figures. On July 4, 1987 Klaus Barbie was convicted and received life in prison as his punishment. Due to complications from prostate cancer Klaus Barbie died September 25, 1991 in Lyon France, the same city he had terrorized fifty years earlier.