Klaus Barbie was born in in Bad Godesberg, Germany in 1913. He joined the Nazi Party in 1932 and three years later became a member of the SS (Schutzstaffel). In 1935 Barbie was assigned to the SD Security Service.
Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War Barbie was promoted to second lieutenant and was with a SD detachment during the Western Offensive. In November 1940 he became an SS Obersturmführer and moved to Holland where he served in the Central Bureau for Jewish Emigration.
In June 1942 Barbie was transferred to Dijon in France to take up a post with the SD Security Service. In November 1942, the Germans reoccupied Lyons and Barbie established an office in Hotel Terminus. The following year he moved to offices and specially built torture chambers in the Ecole de Santé Militaire.
On 7th June 1943, Barbie captured René Hardy, a member of the French Resistance who had successfully carried out several acts of sabotage against the Germans. Barbie eventually obtained enough information to arrest Jean Moulin, Pierre Brossolette and Charles Delestraint. Moulin and Brossolette both died while being tortured and Delestraint was sent to Dachau where he was killed near the end of the war.
As Allied troops approached Lyons in September 1944, Barbie destroyed Gestapo records and killed hundreds of Frenchmen who had first-hand knowledge of his brutal interrogation methods. This included twenty double-agents who had been supplying his with information about the French Resistance.
Barbie fled back to Nazi Germany where he was recruited by the US Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC). Barbie impressed his American handlers by infiltrating the Bavarian branch of the Communist Party. According to the CIC Barbie's "value as an informant infinitely outweighs any use he may have in prison."
René Hardy was tried for treason in 1950. Both the prosecution and the defence teams wanted Barbie to testify. At this time John J. McCloy, the High Commissioner for Germany, was concerned about the growth of communism in Bavaria and valued the role played by Barbie in this struggle. Therefore he decided to reject the requests being made by the French authorities to hand over Barbie. During the trial, Hardy's defence lawyer exposed what was happening by announcing in court that it was "scandalous that the U.S. military authorities in Germany were protecting Barbie from extradition for security reasons."
Barbie was in fact in hiding in a CIC safe house in the American Zone in Germany. McCloy denied any knowledge of where Barbie was and instead announced that the case was under investigation. McCloy was informed by CIC that: "This entire Hardy-Barbie affair is being pushed as a political issue by left-wing elements in France. No strong effort has been made by the French to obtain Barbie because of the political embarrassment his testimony might cause certain high French officials." In other words, Barbie had information that would show how prominent French politicians who during the war had collaborated with the Gestapo. The American government also were worried about what Barbie might say about his involvement with the CIC in Germany.
On 8th May, 1950, René Hardy was acquitted. As Kai Bird pointed out (The Chairman: John J. McCloy: The Making of the American Establishment): " The enraged French public blamed the Americans for not allowing Barbie, the star witness against Hardy, to be extradited from Germany. By the end of May, under pressure from French resistance veterans, the French government had once again requested Barbie's apprehension."
John J. McCloy was now in a difficult position. He was reluctant to admit that the CIC was employing an accused war criminal. In fact, it was more serious than that. According to one CIC document, Klaus Barbie had "personally directed CIC's counterintelligence operations aimed at infiltrating French intelligence." CIC told McCloy that "a complete disclosure by Barbie to the French of his activities on behalf of CIC would... furnish the French with evidence that we had been directing intelligence operations against them."
Throughout the summer and autumn of 1950 McCloy told the French that "continuous efforts to locate Barbie are being made". In reality, no search of any kind was conducted as they knew where he was living. In fact, he continued to draw a CIC salary during this period. In March, 1951, Barbie was smuggled out of Germany and given a new life in Bolivia. In 1957 he acquired Bolivian citizenship under the pseudonym Klaus Altmann
It was not until 1983 that Nazi hunters were able to find Barbie and have him extradited to France. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity. This included the execution of men, women, and children as hostages, torture and the deportation of 842 from Lyons to Nazi Germany. Found guilty he was sentenced in 1987 to life imprisonment. Klaus Barbie died of leukemia in the prison hospital at Lyons on 25th September 1991.