Tuesday, March 28, 2017


The question before the court was a simple one. Was the man in civilian clothes who led the notorious raid on the Jewish children of Izieu in 1944 the same man who now occupied the dock, 43 years later, in Lyons courthouse?

Were the 44 child victims rounded up that day and trucked away to extermination camps, in other words, victims of the Gestapo chief, Klaus Barbie?
Mrs Sabina Zlatin, who ran the children's home at the village of Izieu, east of here, had no doubts yesterday. Barbie's claim that he tracked down only Resistance and Maquis fighters who threatened the German army cut no ice with the white-haired, 80-year-old woman.
The children were innocents, she cried. "There can be no forgiveness, no forgetfulness, for this odious crime." And Barbie was the man who must pay.
The Izieu raid forms the basis of the main and most direct charges faced by Barbie. Yesterday's evidence was therefore considered crucial.
Polish-born Mrs Zlatin ran the children's home with her husband Miron in the remote village. In the spring of 1944, hopes were high that the war would soon end and deliver them to safety.
The children loved their country retreat and wrote reassuringly to relatives. Serge Klarsfeld's book, the Children of Izieu, quotes from a letter by eight-year-old Georges Halpern who wrote of afternoon naps, country walks and a forthcoming party.
But these ordinary pleasures were soon cut short. Hopes of survival foundered on Maundy Thursday - April 16, 1944 - when two lorries and two cars drew up outside the home and carried off 44 children aged between four and 17 and seven adults.
Of the 51, only one adult survived - and that was not Mrs Zlatin's husband. She herself was lucky because she was not at Izieu at the time of the raid which, according to other witnesses, was led by Barbie.
Dr Leon Reifmann, aged 73, a medical student helping at the home, escaped arrest by jumping from a window and hiding. When he began giving evidence yesterday, he was asked to state his age. "The same as the defendant," he replied, referring to the 73-year-old Barbie.
It seems ironic that Barbie, the alleged instigator of Izieu, and Dr Reifmann, who lost his sister, parents and nephew in the raid, should have survived as contemporaries to hear the truth told in a Lyons court 43 years later.
Dr Reifmann said he saw three men in civilian clothes during the raid. Confronted with Barbie, he said the resemblance between one of the three and the defendant was "striking."
Mr Lucien Favet, who was close to the Izieu home at the time of the raid, heard the children singing a patriotic French song as they were driven away. He also identified Barbie, but some of his evidence was challenged by the defence lawyer Mr Jacques Verges.
Mrs Lea Feldblum, the survivor of the Izeu raid, was deported with the children but survived Auschwitz. Describing their arrival at the extermination camp, she said: "the children went to the left (to the gas chambers), me, they pushed to the right."
Barbie was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity. He died in prison four years later.

Campbell Page in Lyons

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