French ask who is on trial: Barbie or Resistance?
Lyon, France — When former Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie stormed out of his trial last week, a television journalist rushed up to him, not to ask why he was leaving or whether he regretted his role in Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, but to ask, ``Who betrayed Jean Moulin?'' Jean Moulin was the leader of the French Resistance. In 1943, Barbie allegedly captured, tortured, and sent him to his death, leaving France divided ever since over whether Moulin was betrayed, and if so, by whom?
The Moulin controversy explains much of the anxiety and criticism surrounding Barbie's trial. Although Barbie was brought back into court on Tuesday to face his accusers, many Frenchmen fear that the trial - now in its third week - has turned into a combination of media circus and judgement against the French nation for collaboration with the Nazi occupiers.
``Who's the real defendant here?,'' asked an indignant Ugo Iannucci, lawyer for Lyon's Federation of Deported Resistants. ``This should be Barbie's trial, but its turning into the trial of the Resistance.''
Some say Mr. Iannucci and the Resistance leaders helped create this problem. When Barbie first was brought back to France from Bolivia in 1983, the French judiciary officials decided to try him on a small number of specific charges of ``crimes against humanity'' - all involving the deportation and murder of Jews. Jean Moulin's case was to be avoided. But the Resistance groups claimed the right to raise their own complaints against Barbie, and the courts finally accepted their plea.
This decision stirred considerable debate. Torture and murder of members of the Resistance usually have been treated as war crimes, while genocide has been treated as a crime against humanity. Since French courts twice in the 1950s sentenced Barbie to death in absentia for his sadistic treatment of the Lyon Resistance, including his torture of Jean Moulin, Barbie only could be tried this time for crimes against humanity. French Jews, in particular, feared that including Barbie's anti-Resistance record might banalize the Holocaust.
``We're confusing two different types of crimes,'' says Marc Aaron, the president of Lyon's Jewish community. ``The Resistants were opponents. They fought [the occupation]. Jews weren't opponents. They didn't fight.''
Resistance leaders disagree. By allegedly ordering the deportation to their death of 300 Resistants as the Nazis were withdrawing from Lyon, ``Barbie deported us not for reasons of war but because of political reasons, and that's also a crime against humanity,'' says Joe Nordmann, a lawyer for the National Federation of Deported Resistants.
Whatever the moral and legal implications, raising the Resistance issue plays into the hands of Jacques Verg`es, Barbie's controversial lawyer. It lets Mr. Verg`es bring in a mass of new evidence on all aspects of the Resistance, and argue that Barbie was merely a soldier doing his job. Barbie committed some excesses, Verg`es says. But didn't the French soldiers when they tortured Algerian freedom fighters during the Algerian War, he asks.
Verg`es says his public goal is to undermine the reputation of the Resistance movement. The Moulin case is central to his case. Verg`es argues that Moulin, realizing his betrayal by his comrades, killed himself, and he promises to reveal the informant's identity. Not only that, Verg`es said in a pre-trial interview that he plans to embarrass some present-day politicians who boast of Resistance ties.
Such revelations threaten to puncture the preponderant French view of the war. Since liberation, French youth have been brought up to believe that that they suffered through four years of oppression under occupation forces until the country's strong anti-Nazi feelings crystallized in a vast resistance effort.
The reality was much less honorable. While many individual Frenchmen acted with great courage, most contemporary historians say collaboration was the rule, not the exception.
Lyon, for example, remains justly proud of its reputation as the capital of the Resistance. Countless plaques to Resistance fighters killed by Germans stand around the city. All the same, from 1940 to 1944, many Lyon factories turned out equipment for the Germans.
The Lyon Resistance only got going in earnest after 1942, and even then, it was not always well-knit or effective and could do little to impede German persecution of Jews.
``Not everyone had the character to be a Resistance member,'' says Resistance lawyer Iannucci. Among those few who were heroic enough to resist, Iannucci admits there must have been traitors, perhaps someone treacherous enough to expose Jean Moulin.
Even with Barbie not testifying, Iannucci does not doubt that Verg`es will try to reveal the identity of Moulin's informant as the trial proceeds and Resistance members are cross-examined. Still, Iannucci and other Resistance leaders hope the media and French public will focus on what they consider the larger issues at stake.
``Even if there were some traitors, it doesn't change the essential heroicism of those who did fight,'' Iannucci says. ``It was Barbie and the Nazis, after all, who committed the most horrible crimes against Jews and tortured Jean Moulin.''