French Nazi-Era Collaborator Papon Dies
Saturday, February 17, 2007; 11:08 PM
PARIS -- Maurice Papon, a former Cabinet minister who was convicted of complicity in crimes against humanity for his role in deporting Jews during World War II and became a symbol of France's collaboration with the Nazis, died Saturday. He was 96.
Papon, who underwent surgery on his pacemaker at a clinic east of Paris last week, died in his sleep on Saturday, said his lawyer, Francis Vuillemin.
Papon was the highest-ranking Frenchman to be convicted for a role in the pro-Nazi Vichy regime.
The April 2, 1998, guilty verdict was the culmination of a trial that offered a painful look at one of the darkest periods in modern French history.
However, Papon _ who at one point fled France to avoid prison _ lived out his final years a free man, released from Paris' dour La Sante prison on Sept. 18, 2002, because of failing health.
In a February 2001 letter to the justice minister, Papon said he had neither "regrets nor remorse for a crime I did not commit and for which I am in no way an accomplice."
Papon served only three years of a 10-year sentence for ordering the arrest and deportation of 1,690 Jews, including 223 children, from the Bordeaux area to Nazi death camps.
"We fought ... so that he would pay," said Michel Slitinsky, a Bordeaux historian who narrowly escaped a Papon-ordered roundup and who uncovered documents implicating him. "He paid. Sadly, he only spent three years in prison, a golden prison, at that."
When Papon was released, the Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld said that the decision to free him showed that "part of the French establishment does not admit that a man like Papon can die in prison."
Papon's lawyer, Vuillemin, said Saturday his client "fought till the end."
"He died a free man," Vuillemin told LCI television.
Papon had been a civil servant par excellence. During the war, he held the No. 2 post in Bordeaux' Gironde region in southwest France from 1942-44. Trial documents showed Papon, responsible for Bordeaux's Jewish Affairs department, was greatly appreciated by the Germans for his "efficiency and reliability."