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French Accused of 'Nazi-Like Thinking' for Prosecuting Barbie

July 03, 1987|STANLEY MEISLER | Times Staff Writer

LYON, France — Defense attorney Jacques Verges, accusing the French judicial system of "Nazi-like thinking" for putting Klaus Barbie on trial, argued Thursday that the evidence was too flimsy and the witnesses too contradictory to convict the former Lyon Gestapo chief of "crimes against humanity."

Verges also goaded the private, mostly Jewish lawyers who represent the victims and their families by describing some of the best-known Jewish victims in the case as collaborators with the Nazi occupation troops and the fascist French government in Vichy.

Verges, who began his summation for the defense Wednesday, will have three more hours today to complete his argument before the court of three judges and nine jurors begins its deliberations. They are expected to reach a verdict tonight.

The 73-year-old Barbie did not hear Verges' presentation on his behalf. He has refused to attend almost all sessions of the trial, which began nearly eight weeks ago. He is charged with the arrest, torture and deportation to death camps of several hundred Jews and resistance fighters.

The French statute of limitations prevents Barbie's being charged with war crimes. He has been charged instead with "crimes against humanity"--crimes regarded as so heinous that there can be no time limit on being called to answer for them.

But Verges said that France had no law dealing with crimes against humanity when Barbie commanded the Gestapo unit in Lyon from 1942 to 1944. He said that to try him now on the strength of a law enacted after the alleged crimes took place is outside French tradition and in the stream of "Nazi-like thinking."

The 61-year-old Verges, who spent the first day of his summation arguing that Nazi crimes against the Jews were no worse than what other countries, including Israel, have inflicted on the Third World, touched a sore point on his second day by accusing the General Union of Israelites of France, known as UGIF after its initials in French, of collaborating with the Nazis and of accepting the philosophy of Vichy France.

Barbie is charged with ordering his Gestapo to raid UGIF headquarters in February, 1943, arresting 84 Jews and deporting them to death camps. Following Nazi policy throughout Europe, the Vichy government had ordered all Jewish organizations to unite into UGIF so that there would be only one Jewish organization to deal with.

Some Jews now believe that French Jewish leaders made a great error then by running UGIF, a form of cooperation with the Vichy government. The critics contend that this cooperation unwittingly made it easier for the Nazis to round up Jews for deportation.

It was not clear what point Verges hoped to make by denouncing UGIF victims as collaborators, but he seemed to imply that this diminished somewhat the crime of killing them. In any case, Verges said that although Barbie signed a report describing the raid, he had not ordered it.

"Barbie had nothing to do with the raid on UGIF," Verges said.

Verges also ridiculed testimony that Barbie had ordered the deportation of the last convoy of Resistance and Jewish prisoners to leave Lyon for death camps on Aug. 11, 1944, a few weeks before American troops liberated the city.

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