Lyon, France — In the face of angry accusations of cowardice, Klaus Barbie, the former Gestapo chief in Lyon, refused Wednesday to attend any more sessions of his trial for "crimes against humanity."
Barbie's withdrawal, permissible under French law, drained the trial of much of its drama, ensuring that Barbie will not have to face his alleged victims and their families during the weeks ahead.
Reading a written statement in German on the third day of the trial, Barbie said that he was refusing to attend any more sessions because he is "a kidnapped Bolivian citizen" expelled illegally from Bolivia to France four years ago.
"My expulsion was not legal," Barbie said. "It was a violation of the Bolivian constitution, of Bolivian civil rights, and of international human rights. I regard myself as a hostage and not a legally detained prisoner."
He described his withdrawal as "a legal matter (that) has nothing to do with cowardice."
Barbie's lawyer, Jacques Verges, told the court that two Bolivian lawyers had filed suit in the Bolivian Supreme Court challenging the expulsion of Barbie to French Guayana in 1983. Verges said Barbie had been "delivered" to France without an extradition hearing in Bolivia.
Barbie, is withdrawing, Verges said, because he does not believe that the French court had the right to try him.
Beate Klarsfeld, who in 1972 disclosed that Barbie was living under an assumed name, told reporters that it was still important to convict him.
"Sure, it would be satisfying to see a criminal after 40 yearsface his victims," she said. "But it's always the same with these criminals when the time comes. They are lache (cowardly)."
Judge Andre Cerdini, after a brief recess from which Barbie refused to return, ruled that the trial would continue without him.
'Victory of Democracy'
Pierre Truche, the prosecuting attorney, told the court, "It is a victory of democracy over Nazism that the jury can judge the facts in fairness even without the presence of the accused."
Barbie is charged with arresting and deporting a large number of Jews and Resistance fighters from the Lyon area to Nazi extermination camps. In one case, in April of 1944, 44 Jewish children were rounded up from their hideout in a mountain village and sent to their deaths.
As Barbie was led out of the Palace of Justice to a police van waiting to take him back to prison Wednesday, an onlooker called out, in Spanish, "Why are you leaving? Are you afraid?" Barbie replied, also in Spanish, "What do I have to be afraid of?"
Barbie's withdrawal from the trial came as a surprise even though the last well-known client of Verges, convicted terrorist Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, also refused to attend his trial, which took place in Paris last February. Verges, however, has spoken so often of putting French society on trial alongside Barbie that it seemed unlikely he would do anything to dim the public spotlight on Lyon.
In court Wednesday, Barbie, after replying to a long series of questions from Judge Cerdini about his background, asked the court's permission to make a statement. Then, taking a sheet of paper from Verges, he began reading. It was not until his words were translated into French that a shocked murmur could be heard from the several hundred journalists present in the courtroom-- actually the spacious entrance hall of the Palace of Justice.
There were angry shouts from some of the lawyers representing the victims and families of victims. And Truche, the prosecutor, arose to denounce Barbie.
"You were a triumphant Nazi when you had people in your hands who could not defend themselves," Truche said. "But now you are a shameless Nazi. You do not have the courage to look into the eyes of those you have tortured. You are a coward."
Against these attacks on his client and himself, Verges cried out in tones that blasted through his microphone, "I am the sole defender of a man alone, a man who faces all the indignation of you self-righteous people. You are denouncers. This is an ignoble trial."
Verges later told reporters that although he had advised Barbie on the matter, the decision to withdraw from the trial was made by Barbie alone.
Was Agent for U.S.
The reasons Barbie cited for his withdrawal shifted attention from his alleged crimes in Lyon to his refuge in Bolivia after the war. Bolivia was chosen by officers of the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps. The Army had used Barbie as an intelligence agent after the war, shielded him from French prosecutors, gave him the name Klaus Altmann when French pressure intensified and sent him to Bolivia in 1951.
After being protected for three decades by right-wing military governments in Bolivia, Barbie was arrested by an elected leftist government in 1983 and expelled to French Guayana.
Before reading his statement and leaving the courtroom, Barbie had replied to a long series of questions put by the judge. Although he acknowledged that he had been a loyal Nazi militant, he denied that he had ever harbored any hatred toward Jews, Gypsies, Slavs or any other minority described as inferior in Nazi philosophy.
"I did my work," he said. "I had nothing to do with this. I did not have anything to do with the expression of views about minorities...I have no hatred against these minorities. I do not know the word hate. "
Barbie, who has described himself as a minor functionary in Lyon taking orders from his superiors, denied that he had been involved in arresting Jews on his earlier assignment in the Netherlands.
"I had nothing to do with the Jewish question," he said. "That was the work of a special committee."