The Confessions of Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon


314 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-88978-153-2





Edited by James Osborne
Reviewed by Ian A. Andrews

Ian A. Andrews is a high-school social sciences teacher and editor of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association’s Focus.


The name of Klaus Barbie, “the Butcher of Lyon,” is enough to strike fear into the hearts of those who lived through the Nazi terror in World War II. A member of Hitler’s SS, Barbie is one of the most notorious Nazis to escape responsibility for war crimes; he spent the post-war years in exile in Bolivia under the name of Klaus Altmann, until recently extradited to France.

Robert Wilson is a self-professed jewel thief who unwittingly made the acquaintance and gained the confidence of Barbie while on “business” in Bolivia. The result was a contract with Barbie to deliver his “real story” to the world. The book is a culmination of several transcripts of interviews with Barbie, research by the author, a 70-page Barbie memoir, and Vancouver native Wilson’s personal trials and tribulations while compiling all of these.

To Wilson, “Barbie represented a scale of ruthlessness I had never encountered before — the enormity of his crimes put him altogether outside the criminal world as I knew it.” In his “Gestapo Memoir” Barbie did not deny his involvement in the deaths of many while chief of the SS command in Lyon, France, but he maintained that this was part of the “game” of war and was required of him as a soldier. He admitted to capturing famous resistance leader Jean Moulin but rejected responsibility for Moulin’s death. He claimed there was no difficulty in obtaining French informers — among whom was Rene Hardy, a Frenchman previously acquitted of this charge by the French courts. However, Barbie was adamant on one matter: “My mission did not have anything to do with the Jewish problem.”

Wilson admits that he is not a journalist or an historian, and his first-person narrative, with its clipped sentences, often resembles the speech of Detective Friday on the Dragnet television series of the ‘60s. A lack of documentation will damage his credibility among historians; the authenticity of his sources can be questioned, although several interesting photographs purporting to be from Barbie’s personal 1,000-page scrapbook are included. The scrambled, often haphazard arrangement of information may be puzzling to the reader. Nevertheless, the story is a fascinating one — the improbable association of the present with the infamy of the past in a scenario that is yet to be completed in the courts of France.


Wilson, Robert, “The Confessions of Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,