Ex-Vichy official says some Jews must also face trial

PARIS — Former Vichy official Maurice Papon, who faces trial for crimes against humanity, said in a controversial television interview that Jews who compiled lists of other Jews for deportation to Nazi death camps should be tried as well.

"If Vichy is to be tried, then the trial of the UGIF [General Union of French Jews], which participated under constraint like I did, cannot be avoided," said Papon, 86, imperious and combative during his first public appearance in years.

CRIF, the umbrella group of secular French Jewish organizations, called Papon's remarks scandalous and branded the interview a "parody of justice."

The group attacked television network TF-1 for last week "giving the floor to a man accused of complicity in crimes against humanity."

"Maurice Papon used all imaginable maneuvers to flee his own responsibilities, showing no hesitation in shamefully calling into question the Jewish victims of [Vichy leader] Philippe Petain," CRIF said in a statement.

The UGIF, created by the Nazis as a replica of the "Jewish Councils" formed in occupied Eastern European countries, placed thousands of Jewish children safely with non-Jewish families and fed tens of thousands of Jews impoverished by the seizure of their bank accounts and other assets.

But its existence remains controversial.

Advocates point out that its first two presidents died in the gas chambers. Critics maintain that the existence of UGIF helped legitimize German actions and that Jewish inmates of Drancy, a French internment camp, were sometimes forced to draw up deportation lists.

The interview was broadcast five days after France's Supreme Court ordered Papon to stand trial for allegedly ordering the deportation of more than 1,500 Jews when he was secretary general of the southwestern Bordeaux region's local government from 1942 to 1944.

The charges against Papon include being an accomplice to kidnapping and murder, carrying out arbitrary arrests and perpetrating inhuman acts.

Papon has denied the charges against him, saying that he used his position in the Resistance to save Jews. Papon reportedly joined the Resistance movement near the end of 1943.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs at his trial are expected to argue that Papon, like tens of thousands of other French citizens, joined the Resistance only at the eleventh hour, when an Allied victory had become certain.

In one of the interview's most dramatic moments, journalist Paul Amar showed Papon photographs of two sisters, aged 2 and 5, whom Papon allegedly ordered taken from hiding and delivered to the Nazis.

Papon threw the pictures aside and said, "Mr. Amar, you are simply showing off to your viewers."

He handed the girls over after their parents, having been already arrested, asked to be with the children whatever the outcome, he said.

He denied organizing the deportations and insisted that he stayed at his job at the request of the Resistance.

Papon further claimed that he was the victim of unnamed foreign forces determined to have France share blame with Germany for the Holocaust.

Asked who these forces were, he replied, "Ask New York."

After the liberation, Papon went on to an illustrious postwar career, serving as police chief of Paris between 1958 and 1967, then as budget minister in the French Cabinet during the 1970s.

Legal proceedings against Papon, which were first undertaken in 1981, were delayed by successive French governments in the hope that Papon would die before a trial took place that would recall a period many French people would rather forget.

Further reminders of that period came this week, when the French magazine Le Point reported that a former deputy of French President Jacques Chirac oversaw the deportation of 1,000 Jews from occupied France to a Nazi death camp in 1942.

Michel Junot, a deputy to then-Paris Mayor Chirac from 1977 to 1995, had been a Vichy administrator, the magazine said.