LA PAZ – In the twilight of his life at a French prison, Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie felt at peace with his conscience, missed visiting the tombs of his wife and son in Bolivia, and considered himself a “pitiful wretch.”
What was going on in Barbie’s mind in his last years is revealed in letters sent to his best friend in Bolivia, Alvaro de Castro, between 1983 and 1992, and now included in the book “Klaus Barbie. Un Novio de la Muerte” (Klaus Barbie: Death’s Groom) published in La Paz.
“The Barbie who wrote those letters is quite different from the Bolivian army’s honorary lieutenant colonel or the ruthless ‘Butcher’ of his earlier years in Lyon (France),” authors Peter McFarren and Fadrique Iglesias said.
The book offers a new look at Barbie’s life in Bolivia after fleeing from Europe, where his World War II war crimes earned him the name of the “Butcher of Lyon.”
The letters, collected by McFarren and published for the first time in Spanish, show Barbie justifying himself and yearning for freedom, but also lonely and clinging to the hope that his influential Bolivian friends would bring about his return to the South American country.
“The main point is that I have a clear conscience and that the reason for my acts was a cruel war in which I did my duty to my homeland,” Barbie wrote in a letter dated March 31, 1988, while serving a life prison sentence imposed in 1987.
“The letters show (he) never repented” and even believed that “should Germany have won the war, he would not have been deemed a murderer, but others would,” Iglesias said in an interview with Efe.
Barbie lived in Bolivia under the name of Klaus Altmann from 1951 to 1983, becoming well connected with politicians and military dictators, doing business and prospering as an arms trader who protected drug trafficker Roberto Suarez, known as “The Cocaine King,” with the neo-Nazi group the Death’s Grooms at his command.
After being extradited from Bolivia to France on Feb. 4, 1983, something he did not expect to happen, Barbie faced a historic trial in Lyon for crimes against humanity.
As Gestapo chief in Lyon, Barbie was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews and the arrests and deaths by torture of French Resistance leader Jean Moulin.
Iglesias discussed the ease with which Barbie established connections with Bolivian leaders and became a friend of President Rene Barrientos, a general who governed the country from 1966 to 1969, and also worked for dictators Hugo Banzer, who ruled Bolivia from 1971 to 1978, and Luis Garcia Meza, who governed the Andean country from 1980 to 1981.
Barbie made use of his experience in intelligence and repression to develop those connections.
The Nazi war criminal also worked as a spy for the United States between 1947 and 1951, and worked with West Germany in 1960.
The book, published by Bolivia’s Plural, is the most complete work in Spanish about Barbie, Iglesias said.