Can’t Single Barbie Out, Defense Argues : Compares His Acts During War to Later Israeli, French ‘Crimes’

Times Staff Writer

Defense lawyers for Klaus Barbie said in court Wednesday that the former Gestapo chief of Lyon should not be singled out for trial, arguing that Nazi Germany’s war crimes were no worse than postwar crimes committed by the Israelis, the French and the South Africans.

“I do not see any difference,” Algerian lawyer Nabil Bouaita said, “between a crematorium and an incendiary bomb.”

Later, in an obvious attack on Israel, Bouaita said that “the sufferings of 1942 should not lead to impunity for the hangmen of 1987.”


This and other barbs prompted Michel Zaoui, a private lawyer representing Jewish victims and their relatives, to demand that Judge Andre Cerdini halt the defense’s presentation of its case and allow lawyers to reply to the attacks on Israel.

Spectator Removed

After a flurry of excitement--the police rushed a spectator out for whistling, the European equivalent of booing--Judge Cerdini ruled that the lawyers could reply after the defense finished its summation.

The court--three judges and nine jurors--is scheduled to begin deliberating Friday. If Barbie is found guilty of the charges of “crimes against humanity,” he could be sentenced to life in prison. France has no death penalty.

Barbie, the 73-year-old former Nazi accused of ordering the arrest and execution of several hundred Jews and French Resistance fighters in the Lyon area during World War II, did not hear the defense summation. Three days after his trial began on May 11, Barbie announced that he would no longer appear in court, protesting that he had been expelled illegally from his haven in Bolivia in 1983.

History Lesson

The defense, led by the controversial and flamboyant attorney Jacques Verges, did not attempt on the first day of a two-day summation to plead Barbie’s innocence of any of the charges against him, except to insist that he did nothing that violated Nazi German or Vichy French law of the time.

Instead, the 61-year-old Verges, who is of French and Vietnamese descent, and his two Third World associates attempted to prove that world history has seen a constant procession of “crimes against humanity,” all equally terrible.


“Does a crime against humanity provoke emotion and merit commemoration only when it strikes down Europeans?” Verges asked rhetorically.

“We share the grief over the children of Izieu, but we do not ignore the deaths of Algerian children,” he continued, referring to French actions during the Algerian civil war of the 1950s. “We do not separate victims in death.”

The mention of Izieu referred to the charge that Barbie ordered the roundup of 44 Jewish children from a camp in the village of Izieu in 1944 and their deportation to the Auschwitz death camp, where they all died. Bouaita, echoing Verges, likened these deaths to the massacre by Lebanese Christians--with Israeli acquiescence--of Palestinians in the Lebanese refugee camps of Sabra and Chatilla, and to South Africa’s oppression of blacks in the township of Soweto, outside Johannesburg.

Children of 3 Nations

The 36-year-old Algerian said there was no difference between “the children of Izieu, the children of Sabra and Chatilla and the children of Soweto.”

In an emotional presentation, Jean Martin M’Bemba, a 48-year-old lawyer from Brazzaville in the Congo, recounted a long series of what he described as French massacres of black civilians in colonial Africa.

“Blacks,” M’Bemba said, “wanted their place recognized alongside Jews and Gypsies as victims of crimes against humanity.”


Then, in a surprising turn that evoked murmurs in the hot, crowded courtroom, M’Bemba praised Barbie as a man. He acknowledged that it gave him satisfaction to have a former Nazi reach out to a black lawyer for help. But he said, too, that in his meetings with Barbie, he had encountered a man who did not show any signs of racism.

“Someone who believes in the superiority of the white race over the black race cannot hide this sentiment,” M’Bemba said. “Can you imagine Adolf Hitler, if he were alive today, shaking the hand of a black man? But Klaus Barbie . . . when he met me, took my hand within his two hands and held it warmly.”