New York, Sep. 25 (JTA) – Convicted war criminal Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo chief in Lyon during World War II, died Wednesday in the city where his relentless cruelties earned him the epithet "butcher of Lyon."
Barbie, a remorseless torturer who seemed to take special pleasure deporting orphaned Jewish children to death camps, succumbed to cancer of the blood, spine and prostate gland, according to a late report from Paris.
He was 77 and was serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity in St. Paul Prison, where many of his victims were once confined and interrogated by the Gestapo.
Barbie had been in prison in Lyon since 1983, when he was extradited from Bolivia. He had prospered in business there for 33 years under the alias Klaus Altmann, protected by the right-wing dictatorship until it was overthrown.
Barbie not only evaded justice but avoided a death sentence pronounced on him in absentia in France shortly after the war. By the time he stood trial, the statute of limitations on war crimes had taken effect and the death penalty was abolished in France.
His trial began in Lyon on May 11, 1987 and lasted a year. Barbie was defiant and in fact refused to appear in court after the first day, his right under French law.
The testimony against him was damning, offered mainly by Holocaust survivors, among them Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel.
Possibly his most brutal act was to order the arrest and deportation of 44 young Jewish children sheltered at a school in the village of Izieu, near Lyon, in April 1944.
Theoretically, Barbie could have been eligible for parole after serving 30 years of his sentence. He served only four.
On Monday, he was transferred to a hospital, where doctors said his condition was terminal.