'Precious collaborator' sent children to Nazi death camps: Only last year did Jewish groups succeed in having Rene Bousquet charged with crimes against humanity

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RENE BOUSQUET had the rare distinction of being portrayed in the cinema in his lifetime. In the film Petain, released last month, he was portrayed as a thin, elegant young man with a rare dedication to detail.

The detail involved lifting regulations during the Second World War exempting Jewish children under 18 from being deported, as well as parents with offspring under five. Thanks to his initiative, Pierre Laval, the prime minister, and Philippe Petain, the leader of the Vichy regime, were able to agree that whole families could travel to death camps together.

Last July, when President Francois Mitterrand presided over a painful ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv round-up when 11,884 Jews were herded together in a Paris stadium to await deportation, demonstrators put barbed-wire around the entrance of Bousquet's block of flats with a plaque recalling his Vichy career. Scarcely any of those taken to the Vel d'Hiv returned; most were executed immediately after their arrival in Germany.

Bousquet, shot dead at his Paris flat yesterday, was one of France's brightest and most prominent civil servants before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Himmler called him 'a precious collaborator'. The police under his command organised retaliatory executions for attacks against German troops and transmitted intelligence to the Nazis. In December 1943, as the war had turned in the Allies' favour, Bousquet resigned and worked for the Banque d'Indochine. Then he was taken to Germany for safety.

He was tried for treason in 1949, and was sentenced to a five-year jail term, but he was freed when evidence was produced that he had saved some Resistance fighters from execution.

With French law forbidding publication of past convictions, Bousquet resumed his banking career. As a senior official of the Banque d'Indochine, he was on the board of the UTA airline in which the bank was a shareholder. In 1979, Antoine Veil, UTA's chairman and the husband of Simone Veil, the current centrist Minister for Towns who herself was deported to a camp as an adolescent, asked him to resign after the weekly L'Express recalled his war-time role.

Although his past became public knowledge, Bousquet lived peacefully in Paris. It was not until last year that Jewish groups succeeded in having him charged with crimes against humanity, a charge which in France carries no time limit.

Two other Frenchmen charged under the crimes against humanity article are Paul Touvier, a former militia chief in Lyons, and Maurice Papon, a government minister in the 1970s, accused of organising the dispatch of Jews from the Bordeaux region. Last week, a Versailles court ordered Mr Touvier, 78, to stand trial for the killing of seven Jewish hostages in 1944. His case is expected to come to court before the end of this year.

No final decision has been taken on Mr Papon, who had a distinguished career after the war as Paris police chief in the 1960s and then as budget minister under president Valery Giscard d'Estaing in the 1970s.

Obituary, page 26

(Photograph omitted)