PARIS (Feb. 10)
A prosecution lawyer in the war crimes trial of Maurice Papon said the former French minister should get less than life imprisonment if convicted.
Arno Klarsfeld said that Papon was following orders when he ordered the deportation of more than 1,500 Jews from southern France during the Nazi occupation and that Papon had saved some Jews from being sent to their deaths.
“In my opinion, you did not act without orders,” Klarsfeld said Monday to Papon. “I cannot believe that you wanted fellow countrymen to be deported.”
Klarsfeld’s attempt to absolve Papon of criminal intent stunned other lawyers representing the relatives of deported Jews.
Klarsfeld, son of famed Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld, recently called for the presiding judge in the case to remove himself because he had an uncle whose wife’s family was deported to their deaths at Auschwitz while Papon was a high- ranking bureaucrat for France’s pro-Nazi Vichy regime.
Klarsfeld admitted that the move was in part motivated by a personal vendetta against Judge Jean-Louis Castagnede, who has allowed Papon to go free for the duration of the trial instead of keeping him in prison, as is customary in France, or under surveillance in a hospital.
The public prosecutor, as well as the other lawyers for the civil plaintiffs, denounced Klarsfeld’s motion, and France’s umbrella group for Jewish secular groups, CRIF, asked him to back off.
In a sharp turnaround last week, Klarsfeld withdrew his motion calling for the judge to step down — a move that brought evident relief to those who did not want to see the already drawn-out trial thrown into further disarray.
A Paris police chief and budget minister after the war, Papon is being trial on accusations that he ordered the arrest of 1,560 Jews, 223 of them children, for deportation to death camps between 1942 and 1944.
Papon denies the charges against him, saying he was a powerless underling who spent the war saving Jewish lives.