Touvier claims he saved many Jews facing execution

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The Independent Online
PAUL TOUVIER, the Vichy militiaman on trial for crimes against humanity, told yesterday how seven Jews came to be executed near Lyons almost 50 years ago, but said he saved the lives of many more.

On the ninth day of the trial in Versailles, Touvier, who will be 79 on Sunday, told Henri Boulard, the judge: 'I should like to give an account of the Rillieux tragedy again.' The specific charge against Touvier, head of militia intelligence in Lyons, is that he organised the murder of seven Jewish prisoners at Rillieux-la- Pape on 28 June 1944.

In a weak voice, Touvier, who evaded justice for 45 years by hiding in Roman Catholic monasteries until he was seized by police in Nice in 1989, said he had just returned from Vichy, seat of the Second World War collaborationist government, when Victor de Bourmont, his boss, told him Philippe Henriot, Secretary of State for Information, had been assassinated.

On Monday, Touvier had said his chauffeur gave him the news. He has claimed a poor memory and tried to elicit sympathy for his age and years in hiding. Unlike Klaus Barbie, the German Nazi police officer in Lyons jailed for life on the same charge seven years ago, Touvier has not exercised his right to stay in his cell.

De Bourmont, Touvier said, 'was very upset' and Werner Knab, the Nazi secret police chief in Lyons, had 'decided a spectacular execution of 100 Jews had to be carried out' in reprisal for Henriot's death. Touvier said de Bourmont persuaded the Germans that the affair was purely French and cut the number to 30. De Bourmont was 'panic-stricken, and I was panic- stricken too'. Touvier added: 'We tried to reduce the number . . . I said we would do seven at a time.'

That tactic worked, Touvier said. 'I was right, Knab's attention was taken up by other things and he forgot about it.' He said Andre Reynaud, another militiaman, chose the seven prisoners, who were shot against a cemetery wall at Rillieux.

Alain Levy, a lawyer for civil plaintiffs, relatives and Jewish organisations, told Touvier: 'You have said things today you have never said before. You are creating a new version.'

Touvier, who said he had said a Mass for the Jewish victims - 'Mass for Jews is valid' - replied: 'Everything I say is the truth. But each time memory has failed me.'