French Court Charges Vichy Officials, but It’s Uncertain They Will Be Tried

The Bordeaux court of justice formally charged two former officials of the Vichy regime with crimes against humanity Tuesday.

But it remained uncertain whether Maurice Papon and Rene Bousquet, both 82, will stand trial for their offenses, which include the deportation of Jews from the Bordeaux region of southwestern France during World War II.

Both have been accused before, only to have the charges thrown out on technicalities.

Nevertheless, the Bordeaux court’s announcement was welcomed as thousands of people demonstrated all over France to protest the freeing of Nazi collaborator Paul Touvier by the Paris Court of Appeals on Monday.

Touvier, 77, headed the Vichy militia in Lyon. He was also charged with numerous crimes against humanity. But the Paris court dismissed all counts for “lack of evidence.”

That decision triggered cries of outrage. The French Parliament delayed opening its Tuesday session to allow members of the National Assembly to join protest marches in Paris. Demonstrations were also held in Lyon.

Even French President Francois Mitterrand was taken aback by the verdict. Surprise “is an understatement,” he told reporters.

But it has long been an open secret that the highest government circles, including Mitterrand, opposed the trial of Touvier or of any former Vichy official on grounds that it would open old wounds and imperil the “civil peace.”

In the southern French city of Toulouse, Jewish students staged a hunger strike on the steps of the City Hall and explained to young onlookers what happened in France during the war.

Touvier, who was twice sentenced to death in absentia after World War II, lived in hiding for many years under the protection of Roman Catholic clergy and once was actually pardoned by President Georges Pompidou.

That attitude has raised concern that Papon and Bousquet may also evade justice. Bousquet was chief of the Vichy police. Papon, who headed the Vichy administration in Bordeaux, carried out his orders to round up and deport Jews.

Legal circles said it may be months or years before they are brought to trial, if ever.

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