PARIS (Nov. 3)
Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld has asked French justice officials to take steps to prevent a former Cabinet minister who is charged with crimes against humanity from leaving the country to escape trial.
An appeals court ruled in September that Maurice Papon, 86, must face trial for ordering the deportation of 1,690 Jews, 223 of them children, to Nazi death camps when he was secretary general of the Bordeaux region’s local government during Germany’s wartime occupation of France.
Papon has appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.
“I asked the public prosecutor to take away Papon’s passport and put him under police control,” Klarsfeld said. “He is old, he has money and if he leaves France, he can always say he is ill and cannot be extradited.”
Klarsfeld said he had made the request to the Justice Ministry on Oct. 25 and was still awaiting an answer.
Citing Papon’s age and health problems, some observers believe that he will never set foot in the dock to face his accusers. Papon recently had heart surgery.
Klarsfeld said he was putting pressure on the Supreme Court to rule quickly on whether Papon should stand trial.
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.
But lawyers for the families of his victims have documents signed by Papon that ordered the transfer of Jews to transit camps from which they were sent to Auschwitz.
After the liberation, Papon 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.