Tuesday 12 April 2005

Jews Aided Nazi Deportations

Flashback: Accused French Ex-Official Says Jews Aided Nazi Deportations

Maurice Papon, the former French official facing trial on charges of crimes against humanity in World War II, has broken a long silence and accused French Jews of helping to organize deportations to Nazi death camps.

Vigorously denying any guilt and blaming foreign forces in New York for orchestrating a campaign against France and him, Mr. Papon said that any ''objective'' trial of the collaborationist Vichy government would show that Jews ''took part -- under threat, of course -- in these operations.''

Speaking in a television interview, his first public appearance in several years, Mr. Papon, 86, said he knew a prominent Jew living in France whose role was ''to select those Jews who stayed in Drancy and those who were deported to Germany.''

Drancy was a large French transit camp where Jews were held before being sent to Auschwitz and other camps.

Mr. Papon, who served as secretary general of the Bordeaux prefect's office under the Vichy government and rose after the war to become Budget Minister of France, did not identify the man and would not give details about the foreign forces supposedly ''maneuvering to align France with Germany.'' When pressed, he said, ''Ask New York.''

Last week the French Supreme Court ordered Mr. Papon to stand trial on charges of crimes against humanity for deporting 1,560 Jews, including many children, to Nazi camps between 1942 and 1944. His trial in a Bordeaux court is expected to begin later this year, ending Mr. Papon's 15-year battle to keep his case out of the courtroom.

Mr. Papon identified members of the General Union of French Jews, a body created by the Nazis as a copy of the Jewish Councils formed in occupied central European countries, as ''auxiliaries'' to the deportations. ''They did the selecting,'' he declared. ''I didn't.''

The Union was headed by Jewish community leaders, many of whom were eventually deported and killed, including its first two presidents. It appears that the organization of Drancy did involve some Jews -- under threat of immediate execution or deportation -- who took part in the administration of the camp, including the drawing up of lists.

Arno Klarsfeld, a prominent Nazi-hunter, said after the interview that any Jews who drew up lists of deportees ''had a knife to their throats, whereas the only knife Mr. Papon had was the one with which he sliced cake when serving tea to German officers in his office.''

A French Jewish umbrella organization responded furiously to Mr. Papon's interview, calling his remarks ''scandalous'' and ''gravely deploring'' the decision by the main TF1 television station to broadcast the interview on Tuesday night.

A statement from the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France said Mr. Papon had behaved shamefully in ''calling into question the Jewish victims'' of the Vichy leader, Philippe Petain.

If he is tried, Mr. Papon will be only the second French national to face charges of complicity in Nazi war crimes against humanity. Paul Touvier was convicted in 1994 of ordering the execution of seven Jews near Lyons; he died in prison last July. Rene Bousquet, a former policeman accused of deporting 194 Jewish children, was killed in 1993 before he could be tried.

France long obscured its role in the deportation of Jews, seeking to draw a distinction between Vichy and the French state, but it has changed its approach and this week announced the formation of a committee to locate property stolen from Jewish families during World War II.


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