PARIS (Jun. 27)
A former Nazi collaborator who headed a giant cosmetics firm accused of illegally complying with the Arab League boycott of Israel died here Wednesday night, only hours after he had tendered his resignation.
Jacques Correze, 79, succumbed to pancreatic cancer only hours after announcing his resignation as chairman of Cosmair Inc. because of charges that he helped the Gestapo persecute Jews in occupied France during World War II.
He said he was stepping down for the good of the firm, which is the U.S. agent for L’Oreal, the largest cosmetics manufacturer in Europe.
Cosmair accepted his resignation and said it would name a successor next week.
Correze, an extreme right-wing militant before World War II who joined a pro-Nazi group to fight on the Russian front, had been under scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations.
Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld supplied OSI earlier this month with documents attesting to Correze’s activities against Jews during the German occupation of Paris.
Klarsfeld, who helped bring Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie to justice, urged the OSI to bar Correze from the United States. The documents he provided show that Correze participated in Gestapo raids on the shops and homes of Paris Jews in 1941 and helped evict them.
Correze served five years in prison for collaborating with the Nazis. In a statement he released Wednesday to the press, he said, “I cannot change the past. All I can do is express my sincerest and deepest regrets for the actions I may have carried out more than 40 years ago.”
He cited the state of his health and the effects the “controversy” over his past might have on Cosmair and L’Oreal as the reasons he resigned.
MAY HAVE VIOLATED 1977 FRENCH LAW
While he admitted belonging to an underground group called la Cagoule (the hood), which carried out assassinations, bombings and raids on synagogues and Jewish-owned shops during the occupation, Correze insisted he never participated in the persecution of French Jews.
His resignation, and death hours later, were developments in an ongoing scandal involving top executives of the cosmetics firm, whose product lines include Lancome and Helena Rubinstein.
A key issue is whether the company openly flouted a law adopted by the National Assembly, the French parliament, in 1977 making adherence to the boycott of Israel illegal.
In 1988, L’Oreal feared it would be put on the boycott list after its acquisition, through Cosmair, of the Helena Rubinstein Co., which had factories in Israel.
The following year, L’Oreal decided to sell Cosmair to the Nestle Co. Correze was concerned that the deal might fall through if the American firm wound up on the boycott list.
To avoid that, it was reported that Helena Rubinstein had severed ties with Israel and took other measures to satisfy the Damascus-based boycott office.
L’Oreal denied this was the reason the Helena Rubinstein factory in Israel was closed.