Documents show that Butcher of Lyon Klaus Barbie served as West German spy

18 Jan 2011

Klaus Barbie, the Nazi war criminal also known as the ‘Butcher of Lyon’ for his hideous treatment of Jews in Nazi-occupied France, was a paid agent of the German intelligence service BND during the 1960s, according to news magazine ‘Der Spiegel’. After the war, in which he had served as SS officer and as the head of the Nazi police Gestapo in Lyon, France’s third-largest city, Barbie fled to Bolivia and lived there under the name Klaus Altmann from 1951. He was recruited by the BND – West Germany’s foreign intelligence agency – in 1965.

A file on Barbie, whose codename was Eagle, says he was of “complete German attitude” and a “committed anti-Communist”. He provided at least 35 reports and was seen as a reliable source, although it is not yet known what kind of information he gave the agents. Payments for his work were made to him via a branch of the Chartered Bank of London in San Francisco. A few weeks after he was recruited, he took over the Bolivian arm of a German company which operated globally, selling decommissioned weapons from the German military. According to BND records, he was supposed to report whenever the Bolivians were running short of weapons or ammunition.

The agency ended its work with Barbie in the winter of 1966/67 seemingly on fears that he could become a blackmail target of other intelligence services over the murders he committed as a Nazi official. In the early 1970s, the French Nazi-hunters Beate and Serge Klarsfeld tracked Barbie down in Bolivia and obtained his extradition to France in 1983. He was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison. He died in 1991.

As local head of the Gestapo, Barbie personally tortured prisoners and was responsible for the deaths of up to 4,000 people in Lyon. In April 1944, he ordered the deportation to Auschwitz of a group of 44 Jewish children from an orphanage at Izieu. Barbie was also reported to have worked as an officer for Bolivian intelligence and helped to plan concentration camps and formulate torture and repression techniques to fight anti-government rebels while Bolivia was under a dictatorship.

The revelations about him come only a week after the newspaper ‘Bild’ cited newly released documents as showing that German intelligence services knew that Adolf Eichmann was hiding out in Argentina eight years before Israeli agents kidnapped him there in 1960. Eichmann, one of the main executors of Adolf Hitler's "final solution", was brought to Israel for trial, where he was convicted and executed in 1962.