The Barbie Trial (1987): Narrator of the Holocaust in France

  • Sébastien Ledoux
Keywords: Klauss Barbie, Holocaust Memory, France, Transitional Justice, Medias, Witness


While hiding in Latin America, Klaus Barbie was condemned to death for war crimes by the military tribunal of Lyon in 1952 and in 1954. The former Nazi officer, head of the Gestapo in Lyon and its environs during the Second World War, was judged again in France, this time in person, thirty-three years later. Following the trial, Barbie was condemned to a life sentence in prison for crimes against humanity. That said, Barbie’s trial cannot be reduced to merely the length of time it took (between May and July 1987), to place (the Tribunal of Lyon), or to the action (of judging a man for crimes against humanity). This article analyzes the Barbie trial as a narrator of the Holocaust to the French population, from the preparation of the trial in Germany in the 1970s, then in France after the extradition of Klaus Barbie in 1983. The construction, at once juridical, political, and media-related, of such an object of transmission often came into contact with the memory of the Resistance and of its hero, Jean Moulin. The mechanisms by which the Barbie trial was thus configured enable us to do a specific case study of the interactions at work, which can be applied more generally when it is a question of judging crimes of the past, issues of collective and individual memory, the involvement of historical figures, and media discourse.