Literature of the Holocaust
maintained by Al Filreis
Klaus Barbie: women testify of torture at his hands
from the Saturday, March 23, 1987 issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer
LYON, France--In 1944, when she was 13, Simone Lagrange testified yesterday, Klaus Barbie gave her a smile as thin as a knife blade, then hit her in the face as he cuddled a cat at the Gestapo headquarters in Lyon.
Lise Lesevre, 86, said Barbie tortured her for nine days in 1944, beating her, nearly drowning her in a bathtub and finally breaking one of her vertebrae with a spiked ball.
Ennat Leger, now 92, said Barbie "had the eyes of a monster. He was savage. My God, he was savage! It was unimaginable. He broke my teeth, he pulled my hair back. He put a bottle in my mouth and pushed it until the lips split from the pressure."
The three women were among seven people who took the witness stand yesterday to testify against Barbie, the former head of the Gestapo in [Paris] during the Nazi occupation of France in World War II.
Barbie, 73, is on trial in Lyon, accused of torturing Jews and members of the French Resistance and deporting them to Nazi death camps.
But he did not hear their testimony because he has refused to attend the courtroom sessions since the second day of the trial, as he may do under French law.
He has, however, denied the accusations against him and has contended that his 1983 extradition from Bolivia to France was illegal.
Several of the seven witnesses yesterday sobbed as they told of arrest, torture, rail convoys to the Drancy collection center near Paris and on to concentration camps.
They depicted Barbie as a harsh, sadistic officer ready to resort to any cruelty to extract information.
Lagrange, her voice breaking, recalled the arrest of her father, mother and herself on June 6, 1944, the day Allied troops landed in Normandy to drive back the Germans.
Denounced by a French neighbor as Jews and Resistance fighters, Lagrange and her parents were taken to Gestapo headquarters where a man, dressed in gray and caressing a cat, said Simone was pretty.
"I was a little girl, and wasn't afraid of him, with his little cat. And he didn't look like the typical tall, blond SS officer we were told to beware of," she said.
The man, whom she identified as Barbie, asked her terrified parents for the addresses of their two younger children.
"When we said we did not know, he pulled my hair, hit me, the first time in my life I was slapped," she said.
During the following week, the man hauled her out of a prison cell each day, beating and punching at her open wounds in an effort to obtain the information.
"He always came with his thin smile like a knife blade," she said. "Then he smashed my face. That lasted seven days."
Later that month, Simone and her mother were put aboard a sealed train for the Auschwitz concentration camp on a horror ride "which turned us into different people" and that still gave her nightmares 40 years later.
From Auschwitz, where her mother was gassed, the inmates were marched to Ravensbruck, where only 2,000 of the 25,000 people who began the march arrived alive. On the way, Simone saw her father marching in another convoy.
"A German officer told me to embrace him. As we were about to meet, they shot him in the head," she said. "It wasn't Barbie who pulled the trigger, but it was him who sent us there."
Ennat Leger, who lost her sight at Ravensbruck after her arrest, was hoisted to the witness stand in her wheelchair by four policemen.
She was a Resistance fighter nearly 50 years old when she was arrested in 1944, she said, and Barbie and his men "were savages, brutal savages, who struck, struck and struck again."
"Have you heard of the Gestapo kitchens?," she quoted him as saying, in an allusion to the torture chambers.
Lise Lesevre, frail and upright despite her 86 years, described the defendant as "Barbie the savage," saying she recognized him decades later because of his "pale eyes, extraordinarily mobile, like those of an animal in a cage."
Lesevre, who belonged to a resistance group, said the Gestapo arrested her on March 13, 1944, while she was carrying a letter intended for a Resistance leader code-named Didier.
She said Barbie spent almost three weeks trying to learn if Lesevre was Didier, and if not, who was. She was interrogated for 19 days, she said, and tortured on nine of them.
First she was hung up by hand cuffs with spikes inside them and beaten with a rubber bar by Barbie and his men. "Who is Didier, where is Didier?" were Barbie's main questions, she said.
Next was the bathtub torture. She said she was ordered to strip naked and get into a tub filled with freezing water. Her legs were tied to a bar across the tub and Barbie yanked a chain attached to the bar to pull her underwater.
"During the bathtub torture, in the presence of Barbie, I wanted to drink to drown myself quickly. But I wasn't able to do it. I didn't say anything.
"After 19 days of interrogation, they put me in a cell. They would carry by the bodies of tortured people. With the point of a boot, Barbie would turn their heads to look at their faces, and if he saw someone he believed to be a Jew, he would crush it with his heel," she said.
"It was a beast, not a man," she said. "It was terror. He took pleasure in it."
During her last interrogation, she said, Barbie ordered her to lie flat on a chair and struck her on the back with a spiked ball attached to a chain. It broke a vertebrae, and she still suffers.
"He told me, 'I admire you, but in the end everybody talks.'" But she never did, and she heard Barbie say finally, "Liquidate her. I don't want to see her anymore."
She was condemned to death by a German military tribunal for "terrorism" but was placed in the wrong cell and deported to Ravensbruck concentration camp, where she survived the war. Her husband and son did not. She said they were both deported to their deaths by Barbie.
Lesevre said she identified Barbie in February in a face-to-face confrontation at St. Joseph Prison, where he is being held.
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