Touvier case fails to bury past

Click to follow
The Independent Online
FOR five weeks, the old man in the dock at the Versailles assize court turned towards his wife at the end of every day with the words 'a demain'(see you tomorrow).

Just after he heard he had been sentenced to life imprisonment, Paul Touvier, 79, said nothing. The sentence for the killing of seven Jewish hostages near Lyons on 29 June 1944 was anything but a surprise. Touvier, caught after 45 years on the run, could expect little else.

The verdict was the latest, and probably final, judicial decision for a man twice sentenced to death in absentia for his activities as a pro- Nazi militia officer. He benefited from a presidential pardon only to be charged again when crimes against humanity were introduced into the French legal code.

Touvier was the second man to face trial on the charge in France. The first was Klaus Barbie, the 'butcher of Lyons', who died in jail in 1991.

Three other Frenchmen were also charged with crimes against humanity, the only charge in the French criminal code that carries no statute of limitations. Two have since died; one, Rene Bousquet, the head of the Vichy police, was shot dead at his Paris home last June.

The survivor is Maurice Papon, 84, a former budget minister. He was charged for his alleged role in the deportation of Jews to Germany from the Bordeaux region. He was police chief in Paris in the late 1950s, covering a period when dozens of Algerians sympathising with their countrymen's struggle for independence were found murdered in the French capital.

Like Touvier, Mr Papon has seen charges dropped then restored. The juridical zig-zagging in both cases could be seen as a reflection of France's dilemma when facing its Vichy past. Survivors and families of the victims and, to a large extent, the young want the truth to be told and the participants punished. Many in the older generation - those who actually lived through the war and, in a number of cases, flitted between both sides - have long thought it was time to let bygones be bygones.

Alain Jacubowicz, a Lyons lawyer who represented the families of Jewish victims at both the Barbie and Touvier trials, said yesterday that France had tried the Gestapo in the person of Barbie and the Vichy militia in the person of Touvier. Now, he said, it was time to try the Vichy regime itself in the person of Mr Papon. The courts have shown no haste in setting a trial date.

Leading article, page 19

Comments