Trial to revisit French role in Holocaust
October 7, 1997
Web posted at: 11:33 p.m. EDT (0333 GMT)
BORDEAUX, France (CNN) -- Eva Berlinerblau was a young Jewish
woman living in France during World War II when she was
forced to go into hiding, fearing she would be shipped to
Nazi concentration camps -- not by Germans, but by French
"When you sense the hangman's noose awaits you, and you find
an open door where you are welcomed, given food and a feeling
of security ... that has no price," Berlinerblau said as she
fondly recalled the French Catholic neighbor who risked hiding
her for more than two years despite French law.
But other French Jews weren't so fortunate. About 76,000 --
including 12,000 children -- were deported from
France to Nazi death camps in Poland and Germany during World
War II; only about 2,500 of those survived.
On Wednesday, France begins to revisit a buried part of
its past as Maurice Papon, an 87-year-old former police
supervisor in the Bordeaux region, goes on trial on
charges of complicity in Nazi crimes against humanity for
allegedly signing arrest orders that led to the deportation
of 1,690 Jews during World War II. Nearly all were later
gassed at Auschwitz.
Papon is the highest-ranking official of the pro-Nazi Vichy
regime to stand trial for the persecution and deportation of
Jews. And because it is taking place so long after the Nazi
crimes, the trial is likely to be the last of its kind.
Access to the Palais de Justice in Bordeaux is being
controlled round-the-clock by 300 national guardsmen. Papon,
who is expected to attend, will sit in a booth protected by
Papon calls trial 'a farce'
In a statement Tuesday, Papon lashed out at French judges and
the media for concocting what he called a "prefabricated"
trial that falsified history.
"This trial is a farce which is unworthy of a state ruled by
law," he said.
Papon has said he did not have direct authority over police
and that he was simply obeying orders. He has also said he
spared many French Jews' lives by trying to limit arrests.
Papon, whose post-war career culminated in his work as budget
minister from 1978-81, surrendered at a prison Tuesday.
French law requires persons facing serious charges to be
imprisoned for the duration of their court proceedings.
Several dozen inmates jeered and shouted insults from their
barred windows when the former Vichy official arrived.
Attorney Jean-Marc Varaut called the trial an unfair act of
litigation: "It's the first time we are judging someone 56
years after the fact without a single witness from the era,
and the media has already condemned him."
Pen used 'to do more than tortures'
Holocaust survivor Michel Slitinsky, who stumbled on the
documents that launched legal action against Papon 16 years
ago, said he was ready for the trial to begin.
"Papon's statement gives me a little encouragement because I
realize that he's still resentful and he's still appealing to
France," said Slitinsky, who at 17 narrowly escaped a
"He is not an executioner nor a sadist. But with his pen, he
was able to do more than tortures," Slitinsky told CNN.
The trial is expected to last three months, with 140
witnesses testifying, including Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel,
historian Robert Paxton and French Prime Minister Raymond
It already has led to soul-searching among major French
institutions for their role in the deportation of Jews.
Last week, the French Roman Catholic Church issued an
unprecedented apology for its silence during the
deportations. On Tuesday, the National Union of Uniformed
Police apologized for the role police played.
In a lengthy letter of apology, union leader Christophe Gros
asked "pardon for those who forgot that before being police,
they were men ... pardon for those who said, 'I was obeying
Vichy, the seat of government in France after the Germans
defeated the French army in 1940, enacted strict anti-Jewish
laws. Among other things, the French measures banned Jews
from working in professions such as law, medicine, teaching
and civil service.
Laws prohibited Jews from owning property, kept their children
out of public parks, and later forced them to wear a yellow
Star of David, a sign of Judaism.
Correspondent Jim Bittermann and Reuters contributed to this report.