The Butcher of Lyon: The Crimes of Klaus Barbie
Infamous Nazi SS officer Klaus Barbie, known as the Butcher of Lyon, became a US Army intelligence asset after World War II. Barbie was in charge of Gestapo activities in the region surrounding Lyon, France from 1942 – 1944. While there, he participated directly in the interrogation, torture, and execution of suspected members of the French Resistance. Historians hold him responsible for an estimated 4,000 deaths in that area. Perhaps his most infamous action took place in April 1944 when he sent dozens of Jewish children from an orphanage in Izieu, France to concentration camps. All of the children eventually perished there.
After Germany surrendered, the Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps hunted for Barbie and other former SS officers under an operation known as Selection Board. But Barbie managed to stay one step ahead, including a close call in 1946 when he ducked out the back window of a building as CIC agents entered through the front to arrest his comrades. By April 1947, Barbie was still at large but the CIC was pivoting to face the ominously growing threat of Soviet influence in post-war Europe.
The decision was made to recruit Barbie as a source, and he began reporting effectively on his former SS associates as well as Soviet and French intelligence operations in Germany. Even after Barbie’s war crimes finally came to light in the summer of 1949, including his use of an acetylene torch against prisoners, the CIC continued to use him as a source. When the uproar in France became too great for the US Army to ignore in 1951, officers of the CIC made an almost incomprehensible decision to protect Barbie (and the CIC) at all costs; a decision which would hold consequences for all involved for decades to come and forever be a stain on the reputation of Army intelligence.
For episode nine of the Spycraft 101 podcast I tell the story of Barbie’s complex and fraught relationship with the US government.
For additional reading, see The Devil’s Agent by Peter McFarren.