Interagency Working Group (IWG)

Analysis of the IRR File of Klaus Barbie

(Alias Klaus Altmann, Klaus Becker, Heinz Becker, Klaus Behrens, Heinz Behrens, Klaus Spier, Ernst Holzer)
Robert Wolfe, IWG Historian
September 19, 2001

This file was assembled chiefly from copies of previous files of several U.S. Federal Agencies, which had investigated Klaus Barbie and his associates. The last substantive document is dated 1967, and the file was closed in 1970. Its creation was occasioned by an inquiry from U.S. Senator Jacob K. Javits (NY), prompted by a complaint from a constituent. She had viewed a 1966 NBC television program about two crippled brothers who had served in wartime France as British secret service agents. The brothers asserted that Klaus Barbie, "their chief torturer . . . is now a prosperous business man in Munich . . . working as an agent for the U.S.A. and France."

This assertion was erroneous insofar as De Gaulle's Free French intelligence had already been aware of Barbie's misdeeds before war's end. As early as 1942, he was clearly identified as the ringleader in atrocities committed against French Resistance members and Jews during 1942-44 at Dijon and in the Lyons region at St. Genis-Laval, Montluc, and in Lyons itself. Most damning, he had signed the notorious April 1944 deportation order removing Jewish children from their refuge in an Izieu orphanage to Drancy concentration camp, and thence to the Auschwitz gas chambers.

Already in August 1945, the French Ministry of Interior, in the course of investigating crimes perpetrated by French collaborators, encountered Barbie's name in those earlier reports. In 1946, the trial of Rene Hardy, a French Resistance hero charged with having betrayed some of his comrades under torture by Barbie, prompted inquiries by the French Ministry of Interior. When the response was negative, demands were made for his apprehension and extradition to serve as a key witness. In lieu of his presence as a witness at the anticipated second trial of Rene Hardy, in November, 1948 and May, 1949--in all, on four occasions by January 1950--the French SÛreté or the Defense de Service Territoriale had deposed Barbie in the American Zone with Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) permission. On April 1, 1950, his name appeared on the monthly combined Search and Arrest List circulated to the German Police by the states of the American Zone. Apprised of this by a German police acquaintance, Barbie reported his concern to his CIC employers. Suspending his activities, they nevertheless kept him on the payroll in order to keep him under control and under cover while a frantic debate went on as to his disposition.

The French Ministry of Interior pressed the Office of Military Government, U.S. (OMGUS), and bombarded its successor agency as of May 1949, the U.S. High Commission for Germany (HICOG), to search for and extradite Barbie. Resorting to the rationalization that Barbie knew too much about the network of German spies CIC had planted in various European Communist organizations--but presumably as much to avoid the embarrassment of having recruited him--in 1951 the CIC sponsored his escape to South America via a "ratline" operating through Italy.

When the man living openly in Bolivia under the name Klaus Altmann was publicly identified as Klaus Barbie and extradited to France for trial in February 1983, his employment by CIC and its involvement in assisting him to sanctuary could no longer be denied. The Attorney General instructed the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) of the Department of Justice to conduct an investigation. The results were made public in August of that year in a two-volume report with accompanying exhibits: Klaus Barbie and the United States Government: A Report to the Attorney General of the United States.

There is virtually no new information in the recently released IRR Barbie ("Javits") file that is not already contained in the 1983 OSI report. In 1991, however, a National Archives archivist discovered a previously overlooked Barbie file, eight years too late for inclusion in the 1983 OSI report. That resurfaced file had been created by the United States Army, Europe (USAREUR) and filed among its War Crimes Case Files in a "Cases Not Tried" sub-series (Case No. 000-11-199; St.Genis-Laval). Compelled to respond, HICOG resurrected and added to the USAREUR Barbie file. [A dated notation was inserted in the National Archives USAREUR war crimes series that the truant file could be found in its final HICOG resting place as a significant part of its life cycle.]

This HICOG Barbie five-folder file contains copies with translations of the contemporaneous and postwar French reports of atrocities committed by Barbie, and of numerous signed originals of the futile French applications for his extradition, as well as the background correspondence and draft copies of evasive HICOG replies. The most salient excerpt of these, camouflaged in self-protective bureaucratic verbiage, is quoted here:

To have exposed BARBIE to interrogation and public trial would not have been in consonance with accepted clandestine intelligence operational doctrine. . . . [H]e was knowledgeable of high level operations and operational procedures, which would have been compromised. Through procedures in effect at that time, BARBIE was therefor [sic] assisted in 1951 in leaving Europe for resettlement. U.S. Army Intelligence has had no further contact with BARBIE subsequent to his departure from Europe.

The 1966 IRR file analyzed here, probably assembled in order to respond to Senator Javits, covers in inordinately extravagant detail Barbie's peregrinations from 1947 to 1951, including names of his German and American contacts before his employment by CIC. This includes his arrest at Gross Gerau by American forces at the turn of the year 1945, and his release in January. Early in 1946, he was a paid informant for the CIC detachment operating in the Kassel-Marburg-Fulda area. In November 1946, he was the object of futile solicitation and consequent arrest by British intelligence in Hamburg, and CIC reports contain minute details and a floor plan showing how he escaped. He reassured the CIC that he would never work for the British because of his claimed mistreatment while in their custody. He was twice arrested by American military police but both times escaped from custody.

This file also recounts indirect attempts to recruit him through shady former SD middlemen, along with Emil Augsburg (see IWG analysis of his CIA personality file) of the defunct Reich Security Central Office (RSHA), originally headed by Reinhard Heydrich. Barbie responded warily, especially after the arrest of another RSHA stalwart, erstwhile Einsatzgruppe commander Franz Six (see IWG analysis of his CIA name file).

Former Abwehr Captain Kurt Merk, who was captured by American forces at war's end and discharged in 1946, since autumn of that year under the alias "Peterson" had led an eponymous team of German spies hired by the 66th CIC Detachment stationed in then Kempten-Memmingen area, but engaged in human intelligence operations throughout Europe. When he learned that some CIC officials opposed the recruitment of Barbie, with whom he had collaborated in Dijon in 1942. Merk strongly recommended employing Barbie as an unquestionable expert on French Communists, at a time when American leaders feared that the predominant Communist role in French wartime resistance was likely to bring them to power in Paris. Undeterred by Barbie's detailed confession that he and some former SD colleagues, strapped for cash in the spring of 1946, posing as plain clothes police had invaded the home and "confiscated" the jewelry of the Jewish wife of a wealthy "Aryan" baron, Barbie was offered and accepted CIC employment on Merk's team as of April 1947. He was eventually made its deputy-chief, according to his CIC handlers because he was so good at the work of recruiting informants but candidly evaluating their reports. At the turn of the year 1947-48, he was briefly held in custody for interrogation, but then restored to duty.

How high up the CIC ladder its officials were aware of Barbie's wartime depredations, let alone his recruitment by a local CIC detachment, is difficult to ascertain. But when during 1948-51, the French were dunning HICOG for his extradition, the decision to hide him in South America came from further up the ladder. The reply Army Intelligence funneled through the State Department to Senator Javits in 1966 must have required approval at the top. It is even less candid, as the following internal memorandum betrays in its finicky reluctance to name names:

An innocuous reply was fwded [sic] through State Department, which gave only the bare facts about USI connection with him [Barbie], which were 15 years old. Sen. Javits was not told of any current USI interest in him [Barbie]. He [Javits] was told that USI had not had any further contact since 1951. No further inquiries followed.

This fudging is even more obvious when this actual terse reply to Senator Javits is compared with the HICOG internal admissions quoted above:

Dear Senator Javits:

I refer to your inquiry dated 21 June 1946 regarding Mrs. Sandra S. Zanik's concern over the possibility that the United States Government may now employ a former Gestapo official.

An official of the National Broadcasting Company has informed the Department of State that the Gestapo official referred to is Klaus Barbie. Barbie was arrested by the United States Occupation Forces in Germany and his wartime activities were investigated. He was released when the results of this investigation proved inconclusive. Barbie served as a witness [immunized?] for the prosecution at several trials involving war criminals. From 1948 to 1951 Barbie was, as were many other Germans, an informant for the United States Occupation forces. Since early 1951, the United States Government has had no contact with him.

But they knew exactly where he was: "He resides in La Paz, Bolivia, is employed by Standard Industrial SA, and is used as a contact man by MEREX A.G. Company. He is resettled under the name KLAUS ALTMAN." Not recorded is that he also functioned as a quondam security aide to yet another ruthless dictator, Alfredo Stroessner.