Some 150 Jewish students demonstrated here this week in front of the house of Maurice Papon, the last remaining French citizen who has been indicted for crimes against humanity.
The students blocked the avenue in the luxurious area of Paris where Papon lives and read aloud some of the names of the Jews deported on his orders.
The demonstration came in the wake of the conviction last week of Paul Touvier on crimes against humanity. It was the first time that a French citizen had gone to trial on those charges. Touvier was given the maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The Union of French Jewish Students vowed this week that they would do their best to hasten the start of Papon’s trial.
During World War II, Papon was a high-ranking member of the French administration in charge of the Bordeaux are in southwestern France.
At a time when his region was not yet occupied by the Nazis, he signed orders to arrest and deport 1,690 Jews, most of whom never returned from the Nazi death camps.
Many here believe that Papon, who is now 84, will never be brought to trial.
While serving the Vichy regime during the war, Papon reportedly joined the Resistance near the end of 1943. After the liberation, he went on serving in French government.
Papon served as Paris chief during the 1960s and was a Cabinet member in the 1970s.
Under President Charles De Gaulle, Papon was in charge of the Paris police in October 1961, a few months before the end of the war in Algeria, when a silent demonstration of Algerian Arabs living in Paris turned into a bloodbath.
Some sources said that more than 150 Algerians were rounded up, beaten to death and thrown into the river Seine by the police. Not a single police officer was ever tried in connection with these events and Papon was never subjected to a reprimand.
Newspapers that tried to report on the issue were censored. A few years later, President Valery Giscard d’Estaing asked Papon to become his budget minister.
Papon was first charged with crimes against humanity in 1981. He was indicted in 1983, but since that time, as result of legal technicalities – and some say because of an unwillingness to pursue the case on the party of successive French governments – Papon was never brought to trial.
It is unlikely, say observers, that any government will allow a high-ranking member of the French administration to be tried for his role during World War II because it would mean the end of the Gaullist myth of a France wholly bent on resisting the Nazi occupiers.
Two other Frenchman have been charged with crimes against humanity, but their cases never went to trial.
Rene Bousquet, who was Vichy’s police chief between 1942 and 1944 was charged with the deportation of 2,000 Jewish children, was killed by a deranged gunman last June at the age of 82.
Jean Leguay, who was indicted in 1979 for organizing the first mass roundup of French Jews in 1942, died of natural causes in 1989 at the age of 79.