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The Butcher of Lyon

Lawrence Bush
January 25, 2018

Klaus Barbie, a Nazi functionary who became known as the “Butcher of Lyon” for personally torturing members of the French Resistance in the Lyons region, was arrested in Bolivia on this date in 1983. He would be convicted of war crimes in France and die in prison in 1991. Barbie was recruited by American intelligence after the war and aided in his escape to South America. West German intelligence also made deals with him, and Barbie may have been involved in the Bolivian capture and execution of Che Guevara in 1967, with CIA oversight. Active in arms dealing in Bolivia, he became a lieutenant colonel within the Bolivian Armed Forces and may also have had a hand in the Bolivian coup of 1980 — but after the Tejada dictatorship fell three years later, Barbie lost his protection from extradition. Historians hold him responsible for the deaths of 14,000 people and numerous war crimes during World War II, for which he was awarded the Iron Cross First Class by Adolf Hitler.

“If there were mistakes, there were mistakes. But a man has to have a line of work, no?”—Klaus Barbie

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.