PARIS (Dec. 23)
Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld has accused President Francois Mitterrand of protecting a former Vichy official in order to conceal his own service to the Vichy regime.
The stunning charge was made in an interview in Actualite Juive, a Jewish weekly which quoted Klarsfeld as saying the president “wants to avoid a close study of his own activities in Vichy, where he started his political career,” and was therefore protecting Rene Bousquet, former head of the Vichy government’s police.
Bousquet, 81, has been ordered to stand trial for crimes against humanity based on evidence unearthed by Klarsfeld and his associates.
The Paris lawyer, who helped track down Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, is the first prominent French Jew to question Mitterrand’s past.
Mitterrand, a Socialist, joined the French Resistance in 1942, as Klarsfeld acknowledged in the interview. But before that, he worked for the Veterans Administration run by the Vichy regime, Klarsfeld said.
According to Klarsfeld, Mitterrand is deliberately protecting Bousquet to prevent “too close scrutiny” of the Vichy administration, its officials and policies.
Jewish leaders refused to react officially to Klarsfeld’s charge, made Dec. 18. But privately they said they were deeply disturbed and feared that “this sort of talk” could drive a wedge between the Jewish community and the president.
Mitterrand has a longstanding reputation of friendship with the Jewish community. But earlier this year, he publicly condemned “irresponsible elements” in the Jewish community who accused him of being an accomplice of Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat during Arafat’s visit to France.
Bousquet was tried by a special tribunal in 1949 for collaboration with the enemy and was given a symbolic sentence which was suspended.
Subsequently, he enjoyed a long remunerative career as a banker and headed several large corporations until he retired five years ago when Klarsfeld brought new charges against him.
Klarsfeld and an organization of children of Jewish deportees have produced new documentary evidence that Bousquet ordered the Vichy police to arrest Jews.
The prosecution originally asked for trial by a special tribunal which has been long dormant and could take years to reconstitute.
But the Court of Appeals, France’s second-highest jurisdiction, rejected that request last month and ordered Bousquet tried by a regular criminal court.