An 81-year-old alleged former Nazi collaborator has been indicted for crimes against humanity. Tuesday’s ruling by Judge Albert Moatty of the Paris Court of Appeals follows upon a decision last November that Rene Bousquet, who was acting minister of police during the Vichy regime, would be placed on trial, after having led a life of wealth, luxury and respect for more than 40 years.
The indictment also marks the culmination of a 10-year effort by Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld and his associates to reopen the Bousquet case in face of official reluctance and a strong tendency, even within the French Jewish community, not to resurrect a past many French would rather forget.
Bousquet, whose postwar career put him in the top echelons of French business and finance, retired some years ago, although he remains a director of the famous Baccarat crystal factory.
Those who have pursued the case against him say he owes his success to lies about his wartime activities, including a false disclaimer of involvement in the deportation of Jews to death camps and posing as a deportee.
Bousquet’s strongest defense has been his claim that he assisted the French Resistance.
Allied forces who captured him in Germany in 1945 were skeptical of that.
Bousquet was jailed in France until 1948 for his role as head of the Vichy police, which rounded up Jews and deported them. But when brought to trial in 1949, he was given a symbolic sentence, which was immediately revoked in recognition of “services rendered to the Resistance” and having been a deportee.
Bousquet allegedly lied when he told the court that he “systematically refused to deal with the Jewish affairs,” claiming he had “always refused to treat these issues with the Germans.”
His tenure as acting police minister coincided with the police roundups of Jews in Paris between 1942 and 1943 for deportation.
Documents discovered in Nazi archives contain a memorandum Bousquet sent to his deputies all over France in August 1942, stating that “the head of the government,” then Marshall Henri Petain, “wants you to personally supervise the control of the measures decided against the foreign Jews.
“You should not hesitate to break any resistance encountered within the population and to report on the officers who, by their passivity, bad will or indiscretions will have complicated your task,” the acting police minister wrote.
FIRST MAJOR TRIAL SINCE BARBIE’S
In June 1944, when the Allies landed in Normandy, Bousquet fled France in the car of a high-ranking SS officer. He spent the rest of the war in a villa at Ober-Allmanhauser, where the Allied forces found him.
Bousquet posed as a deportee to explain his presence in Germany.
Ten years ago, Klarsfeld and the Association of Sons and Daughters of Deported People filed a suit against Bousquet. They specifically charged him with responsibility for the deportation of hundreds of Jewish children who perished in Nazi death camps.
The case languished, it is said, because of official apathy or Bousquet’s high place in French society.
Then an attempt was made to convene a special tribunal, which would have taken an extensive amount of time to assemble. The attempt was foiled, however, with a decision to hold a trial in a regular criminal court.
The trial is the first major one for crimes against humanity since that of former Lyon Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie, who was convicted by a criminal court in 1988 and given a life sentence.
Several months ago, sources close to President Francois Mitterrand hinted that reopening the Bousquet case could “prove harmful to the civilian peace.”
Infuriated, Klarsfeld, a Paris lawyer, wrote to the junior minister of justice, George Kiejman, urging him to resign rather than “accept and support this infamy.”
Kiejman, who is Jewish and the son of deportees, declined to quit and in fact wrote Klarsfeld supporting the notion that “civilian peace” would be disturbed if the collaborator were brought to trial.
Other leading figures in the Jewish community agreed it was time to stop prosecuting the last surviving collaborators and to concentrate on educating the young generations.
But regardless of presumed opposition at the highest political levels, Judge Moatty decided the best way to serve justice was to apply it.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.