Waiting To Testify At 86, She's Still Impaired By Barbie's Torture
By Jack McKinney
POSTED: February 4, 1987
When the shadow of Adolf Hitler began to lengthen over Europe, there was much brave whistling in the dark from France.
But when Hitler's armored divisions rumbled into France from conquered Belgium on May 12, 1940, all this bravado evaporated. After only 46 days, the fighting was over, and a puppet French government was installed at Vichy.
From a radio studio in London, French tank commander Charles de Gaulle broadcast an appeal to his countrymen across the English Channel. "Come what may," he told them, "the flame of French Resistance must not go out and will not go out!"
Despite the lofty claims that would emerge later, pitifully few French citizens heeded de Gaulle's call. One of the bravest who did was a 39-year-old teacher named Lise Lesevre. She and her husband George immediately became active resistants in the region of Lyon.
Lise Lesevre's courage never faltered, but her luck ultimately failed her in late March, 1944, when she was apprehended carrying plans for the bombing of a German barracks. At Gestapo headquarters, she was confronted by the most feared Nazi in the entire region.
"He was terrifying to see," Lesevre recalled. "He had small eyes . . . that moved constantly. They made you think of a wild animal, those eyes . . . He had a riding crop, and he slapped his boots constantly with it."
This was intelligence chief Klaus Barbie, notorious "Butcher of Lyon."
"You are going to talk," Barbie confidently announced, striking Lesevre across the face to begin a sadistic interrogation that would last 19 days.
Lesevre's ordeal included immersion in a tub of ice water, her head repeatedly forced under to the point of near-drowning. Her body was stretched on a metal rack. She was hung naked by her wrists and flogged.
"It was always Barbie," she said. "Sometimes he had someone relieve him, but he always took over again to finish up. It was terrible."
But in the end, it was Barbie who gave up. Unable to make Lesevre talk, he congratulated her and sent her to a cell to await execution. Through a guard's error, she was put in the wrong cell. Instead of being shot, she was included in a convoy of prisoners to Ravensbruck concentration camp.
Her husband and their only son were to die as Nazi prisoners. But miraculously, Lise Lesevre survived.
Last week, Lesevre again confronted Klaus Barbie in Lyon, where he'd been imprisoned, pending trial for "crimes against humanity," since being deported from Bolivia in early 1983.
The shock of seeing his former victim may have had something to do with Barbie's transfer to a hospital the next day. French officials won't reveal the nature of Barbie's sudden indisposition. Other sources say he faces possible prostate surgery.
Whatever, whenever, Lesevre will be waiting to testify against Barbie. She is 86, and unable to raise her arms above her head because of the tortures Barbie inflicted. But her will is strong, and her memory sharp.
In addition to the physical torments she endured, Lesevre remembers the psychological agony of being forced to watch some of her own countrymen accept money from Barbie for the resistants they betrayed.
While still safe in Bolivia, Barbie sought to minimize the risk of being deported back to Lyon by threatening that he could yet identify many highly placed French citizens as his secret wartime collaborators.
With Lise Lesevre on hand to help stimulate his memory, it is hoped that the Butcher of Lyon will finally name the traitor who sold him his most celebrated victim, the legendary Resistance leader Jean Moulin.