PARIS (Jul. 21)
Paul Touvier, the only Frenchman convicted of crimes against humanity, died last week of prostate cancer in a prison hospital outside Paris.
Touvier, 81, was the intelligence chief of Lyon’s pro-Nazi militia during World War II.
In 1994, after more than 40 years on the run, he was jailed for ordering the execution of seven Jewish hostages.
During the terminal stage of his cancer, Touvier had been in the intensive care unit of the hospital in the Fresnes prison.
Touvier’s son and daughter had asked President Jacques Chirac last month to pardon their father so that he could die a free man.
But that request and four other pleas for his release on medical grounds were turned down.
Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld, who helped bring Touvier to justice, said in an interview that Touvier’s death “was a non-event.”
“Once he was in prison, we received news of it with indifference,” Klarsfeld added.
Jacques Tremolet de Villers, Touvier’s lawyer, said in a statement that Touvier “was finally free.” The statement also said, “He was sentenced to life in prison, not to die in prison.”
Touvier ordered the executions of seven Jewish hostages in reprisal for the killing of Vichy propaganda chief Philippe Henriot. A firing squad shot the men outside the cemetery of Rileux-la-Pape, near Lyon, in June 1944, just two months before the area was liberated.
Touvier was a key aide during the war to Gestapo Chief Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyon,” tracking Jews and Resistance fighters and frequently confiscating their possessions. Barbie died in prison in 1991.
Touvier, who was sentenced in absentia to death in 1947, was pardoned in 1972 by President Georges Pompidou.
French police captured Touvier in 1989 in a southern French monastery, where he was hiding with his family. Revelations that he had been sheltered by right- wing Catholics deeply embarrassed France’s Roman Catholic Church and reminded the French people of a past they had tried to forget.
When police took Touvier into custody, he had said, “I regret nothing.”
The trial of Touvier, a middle-level official, was not a total victory for lawyers and families of Holocaust victims determined to prove that French participation in sending Jews to their deaths included those in the highest reaches of government.
Only one accused Nazi collaborator is still alive.
Maurice Papon, a senior official in the Vichy regime, is accused of deporting nearly 1,700 Jews from southwestern France. A Bordeaux court is scheduled to decide in September whether he should stand trial on crimes against humanity.