PARIS (Sep. 18)
A French appeals court has ruled that Maurice Papon should be tried for his role in deporting 1,690 Jews, 223 of them children, to Nazi concentration camps between 1942 and 1944.
Wednesday’s decision comes after the court in the southwestern city of Bordeaux convened in March to determine whether the 86-year-old former Cabinet minister should face charges of crimes against humanity for his actions during World War II.
The court did not set a trial date when it rendered its decision, and Papon’s lawyer, Jean-Marc Varaut, said he planned to appeal the ruling, a move that would delay the trial by at least six months.
Citing Papon’s age and health problems, some observers believe he will never set foot in the dock to face his accusers. Papon recently had heart surgery and was not present for Wednesday’s decision.
Citing the planned appeal, CRIF, the umbrella organization of French Jewish secular groups, charged in a statement, “After 15 years of judicial procedure, Mr. Papon is attempting an ultimate maneuver before the Supreme Court.”
CRIF “hopes that the Supreme Court will hand down a ruling as soon as possible so that justice is done in this case,” the statement added.
Arno Klarsfeld, who along with his father, famed Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld, is one of several lawyers representing the 36 plaintiffs in the case, was optimistic that the Supreme Court would uphold Wednesday’s decision and that the case would come to trial within six months.
In an interview, Arno Klarsfeld applauded Wednesday’s decision, saying it “sent the clear message that France does not forget.
“Justice has looked into the shadows of history to find truth,” he added.
Michel Slitinsky, a plaintiff in the case who brought the first charges against Papon, said of Wednesday’s decision, “All of the evidence confirmed Papon’s total allegiance to the Nazi state.”
“Papon and his administration became its instrument,” Slitinsky, whose father was among those rounded up by Papon’s police, said in an interview. “The ill were taken out of hospitals to lengthen his lists, as were young children.”
Papon, who stands accused of complicity in crimes against humanity, kidnapping, arbitrary arrests and persecution, was secretary-general of the Bordeaux region’s local government during Germany’s wartime occupation of France.
Papon has denied the charges against him, saying that he used his position in the Resistance to save Jews. Papon reportedly joined the Resistance movement near the end of 1943.
After the liberation, he went on to an illustrious postwar career, serving as police chief of Paris between 1958 and 1967, then as budget minister in the French Cabinet during the 1970s.
Jewish groups, lawyers and former Resistance members have long felt that successive French governments were obstructing the judicial process, hoping that Papon would die before a trial took place that would recall a period many French people would rather forget.
Approximately 76,000 Jews, including 12,000 children, were arrested and deported from France to Nazi death camps between 1941-44. Only about 2,500 survived.
During the hearings in Bordeaux, the public prosecutor said Papon was responsible for sending Jews to the death camps on four trains.
In its decision, the court sided with lawyers for the relatives who accused him of being responsible for an additional six trains.
If brought to trial, Papon would likely be the last Frenchman to face charges of crimes against humanity for wartime actions.
In April 1994, former Lyon militia chief Paul Touvier was found guilty of crimes against humanity for his role in the assassination of seven Jewish hostages on June 29, 1944, in Rillieux-la-Pape, located near Lyon in southeastern France.
Touvier died in July while serving a life sentence.