PARIS (Nov. 1)
A complacent and even self-glorifying France was suddenly reminded this week, 33 years after the end of World War II, of the darkest days of French wartime collaboration with the Nazis in the deportation of 75,000 Jews to their death. A 76-year-old man, Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, who served during the Nazi wartime occupation as the Vichy government high commissioner for Jewish affairs, suddenly spoke out.
In an interview Monday with the French news magazine, L’Express, he defended what he had done as necessary for France’s patriotic interests. He expressed no regrets and found no excuses. He did not claim, like all his predecessors, to have carried out orders but said that he had “his conscience” with him.
Pellepoix, who fled France just before the country’s liberation, was sentenced to death after the war for collaboration. In spite of the sentence he has lived undisturbed and apparently prosperously throughout this period in Spain. He told the French magazine that as far as he knew France had never once asked for his extradition. Pellepoix even claimed that he was on “good terms with the French Embassy in Madrid and I occasionally attend its receptions.”
According to the French reporter who interviewed him, Pellepoix did not try to hide. He owned a translating office and a language school and his name and private address appear in the Madrid telephone directory.
Pellepoix’s statements shocked France more than any past revelation, not because of any gruesome details now revealed but because of the ease and self-assurance with which Pellepoix recalled the period during which French policemen rounded up Jews, proceeded to arrest them and convoyed them either to the border or handed them over to the Nazis right in the hearts of the cities in which they used to live.
POIGNANT COMMENT FROM VEIL
French radio and television stations highlighted the report. The mass circulation “France Soir” headlined it on the front page and “Le Monde” ran a front page editorial. The most poignant comment came from France’s Minister of Health, Simone Veil, whose parents were gassed in Auschwitz after being arrested on Pellepoix’s orders in their native city of Nice. Mrs. Veil, who spent three years in Auschwitz from which she was released only after Nazi Germany’s fall, said:
“It is the first time since the end of the war that anyone has dared to go that for in trying to justify the execution of millions of Jews.” She added that she thinks it was right to bring the past back as “it would be too easy to just turn the page and forget all about it.” But when asked what should be done with Pellepoix himself, she said, “I do not want him either judged nor do I want his death. Let him live where he is (in Spain) with his anguish and his remorse.”
The shock in France was so severe that members of the French National Assembly have asked for the extradition to France of Pellepoix. President Valery Giscard d’Estaing released a statement yesterday condemning racism and Nazism. Several Jewish organizations have called upon Spain to expel Pellepoix.
However, the French Ministry of Justice said today that Pellepoix’s crimes fall under the statute of limitations since March 1968. The Ministry said that even before that date Pellepoix could not have been extradited to France because the France-Spanish extradition agreements do not cover political crimes. The Ministry said that Spanish courts have always refused to extradite World War II criminals on the basis of this agreement.