Klaus Barbie on his record as a Nazi leader

I know that in one of the evaluations of my service [to the Nazi Party] there is a note concerning my abilities as an intelligence agent, and my responsibility in the dismantling of numerous enemy networks…One of those reports describes me as "Extremely dependable." But I was only doing my duty…I executed the orders I received. I behaved like any other SS officer. 1

1 Klaus Barbie (at his trial, 13 May 1987) as quoted in Annette Kahn, Why My Father Died: A Daughter Confronts Her Family's Past at the Trial of Klaus Barbie (New York: Summit Books, 1991), p. 74.

Klaus Barbie on becoming a Nazi

For me it was a means to enter public service with all the guarantees of work it entailed. I must admit that serving as an intelligence agent for my country and my Party seemed a job with an interesting future. I would be a public servant, but not a petty clerk. 1

1 Klaus Barbie (at his trial in 1987) as quoted in Annette Kahn, Why My Father Died: A Daughter Confronts Her Family's Past at the Trial of Klaus Barbie (New York: Summit Books, 1991), p. 40.

From the memoirs of Klaus Barbie

The nuns at the convent [in Lyon] were arrested. I do not remember if they were executed but I think they were. Yes, now I remember, they were executed.1

1 Klaus Barbie, "A Gestapo Memoir," in Robert Wilson, The Confessions of Klaus Barbie (Vancouver: Pulp Press, 1984), p. 146.

Gonzalez-Torres on dealing with the image of the

I recently saw a very traumatic photograph of a Yugoslavian soldier beating and kicking the bodies of two dead Muslim women. This soldier is a man who probably has a god, a man who performs his duty, a "family man," a hero…[One] reason why I make works of art is to try to get that out of my system in a healthy way. Here is a "family man" who has the kind of respect that I as a gay man will never have. How do I deal with a culture that will give him a medal of "honor"? How? In a way I'm trying to negotiate my position within this culture by making this [body of] artwork.1

1 Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Interview with Tim Rollins (12 June 1993), Felix Gonzalez-Torres (New York: A.R.T. Press, 1993), pp. 30-31.

Robert Wilson, biographer and acquaintance of Klaus Barbie, on Barbie's time in Lyon (which earned him the nickname "the Butcher of Lyon")

Klaus Barbie participated in transporting more than 7,000 people to the gas chambers while he commanded the Gestapo. Among his victims were the forty-one Jewish children—remembered as "the children of Izieu"—taken from a group home for Jewish children in the town fifty miles from Lyon. They were between the ages of three and thirteen. Klaus Barbie personally directed their apprehension and internment in the holding camp at Drancy. His signature sent them on to Auschwitz, where they were all murdered…Maurice Boudet, a Resistance member, lived to describe Barbie's technique [for torture]: "He was a monster. He always had a blackjack in his hand. He beat without hesitation and encouraged others to do the same. When I was unconscious, he pushed me into the freezing bath, then the blackjack again, and injected acid into my bladder. He enjoyed other people's sufferings, and even hanged people in front of us with music playing in the background."1

1 Robert Wilson, The Confessions of Klaus Barbie (Vancouver: Pulp Press, 1984), pp. 84-85.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres in a letter about portraits

Public life is private life. In our culture we live in a network of interrelations. As Lenin said: everything is related to everything.1

1 Felix Gonzalez-Torres, letter to Mr. Robert Vifian (3 December 1994), as reprinted in Julie Ault, ed., Felix Gonzalez-Torres (Göttingen: Steidl, 2006), p. 171.

Back to North Main Gallery
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 'Untitled' (Klaus Barbie as a Family Man) (1988) Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 'Untitled' (Klaus Barbie as a Family Man) (1988) C-print as a leaf puzzle in transparent plastic. Collection of Susan E. Cahan

To create this work, Gonzalez-Torres appropriated a family portrait and had it turned into a puzzle; this puzzle was fabricated via a commercial process that also inserted it into a sealed plastic bag. The father in the image is Klaus Barbie (1913-1991), a Nazi leader who was sentenced to life-in-prison the year before this work was made. Decades earlier in Nazi Germany, he had been commended for helping "purge" Berlin of Jews and homosexuals and for his pivotal role in undermining the French Resistance. The artist's selection of this image of Barbie may reflect his interest in examining the ramifications of historical events on personal lives. The form of a wrapped puzzle may reference evidence collected at a crime scene. As the image is precariously held together, it also bears comparison with the precarious slabs of Richard Serra's Standpoint nearby.