Assassin reopens French war scars: Writer confesses on television to shooting top Nazi collaborator four times

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The Independent Online
A LONE assassin yesterday shot dead Rene Bousquet, the most senior known survivor of France's Second World War Vichy regime, who was responsible for sending thousands of French Jews to their deaths.

The four bullets that extinguished Bousquet's life revived anguished soul-searching in France, reawakening long-suppressed memories of collaboration with the Nazis. Bousquet, like many other leading collaborators, was allowed a peaceful and prosperous life in Paris after the defeat of Germany, and his past began to catch up with him only shortly before his spectacular death.

As chief of the Vichy police, Bousquet played a crucial part in the round-up of French Jews for dispatch to Nazi death camps. An estimated 80,000 never returned. Bousquet was one of three Frenchmen facing the charge of crimes against humanity.

Bousquet, 84, was shot four times after answering the door at his Paris home. Christian Didier, a greying man in his fifties, then gave a press conference - later shown on television - in a hotel in a northern Paris suburb at which he said that he had shot Bousquet. He was arrested immediately afterwards.

Mr Didier said that he had gone to Bousquet's flat in the smart 16th arrondissement at 8.45am pretending to have legal documents pertaining to charges against Bousquet, and then pulled a pistol from a bag.

'I pulled out the revolver and fired at point-blank range but he ran towards me. He had incredible energy. I fired a second time and he kept coming at me. I fired a third time and he began to stagger. The fourth time I got him in the head or the neck and he fell with blood pissing out of him.' Mr Didier said his 'mission on earth is to struggle against the collapse of spirituality in the Western world'.

In a France still, after half a century, acutely sensitive over its wartime past, Bousquet's death angered Jewish groups and politicians who said the murder robbed the French of an important trial which would have thrown light on the history of Vichy. Serge Klarsfeld, France's best known Nazi-hunter, said it was 'a deplorable event which interrupts the course of justice' two weeks before a court was to decide on whether Bousquet should go to trial.

Jean Kahn, a French Jewish leader, said: 'I regret there will be no Bousquet trial because it would have taught an immense lesson by putting French collaboration on trial.' The TF1 television channel said Mr Didier was an unsuccessful writer known for stunts such as interrupting live broadcasts. It said he had served a four-month prison sentence for trying to get into a prison where Klaus Barbie, the former Nazi police chief of Lyons, was being held during his trial in 1987. Mr Didier had said he wanted to kill Barbie. Barbie, who died in 1991 while serving a life sentence, is the only person to have been tried in France for crimes against humanity.

Despite his notoriety, the courtly Bousquet lived openly on the sixth floor of a modern block of flats on the Avenue Raphael, near the Ranelagh gardens where he walked his Alsatian dog every day.

A successful civil servant at the outbreak of the war, Bousquet, who had achieved national fame by personally saving several people from floods in 1929, was named secretary-general of the Vichy police by Pierre Laval, the collaborationist prime minister, in April 1942.

After the war he resumed his banking career, rising to a senior rank at the Banque d'Indochine. He was appointed to the board of the UTA airline in which the bank was a shareholder. Unmasked in 1979 and charged last year, Bousquet was perhaps the prime example of the worst of Vichy: a dynamic and enthusiastic collaborator who liked to anticipate Nazi desires. He rounded up more Jews than requested and lifted regulations exempting children from deportation. His defence: he was only obeying orders.

Bernard Pons, head of the Gaullist RPR group in the National Assembly, said the killing was carried out by 'people who don't want the trial of Vichy to take place'.

'A precious collaborator', page 12

Obituary, page 26

(Photograph omitted)