Anti-Semitism & Holocaust

Mercy He Never Showed

September 21, 2002

Why was France so quick to spring convicted World War II criminal Maurice Papon from prison?

Under a new law, an appeals court ruled Tuesday that Papon - whose career included a decade as police chief of Paris - was too ill for incarceration and had to be freed immediately.

The release means that Papon served less than four years of a 10-year sentence imposed in 1998 for his wartime role in sending 1,690 French Jews - including 233 children - to Nazi death camps.

Though some may argue that, at age 92, Papon was an appropriate candidate for clemency, it remains that he escaped justice for his crimes for more than 50 years.

Even after his arrest, he remained unrepentant, insisting he'd merely followed orders from his superiors in the Nazi-collaborationist Vichy government.

He even went so far as to offer the obscene claim that it was Jewish leaders, and not he, who selected victims for deportation to the concentration camps.

Papon's case forced France for the first time to confront its role during the Holocaust: Postwar governments cultivated a myth of resistance that allowed France to grant itself a clean bill of moral health.

In fact, the French public overwhelmingly supported the Vichy regime, which embarked on a policy of overt collaboration with Germany.

Papon, meanwhile, was the first ex-Vichy official convicted of complicity in crimes against humanity. Fifty-plus years after the fact.

Now Papon's lawyers say they will continue to fight to vindicate him. Meanwhile, President Jacques Chirac - stung by the public outcry - has instructed his justice minister to formally appeal the court's ruling.

But as famed Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld noted, even Papon's release "will not change the fact that he was sentenced to 10 years by the jury. That's the most important thing."

©2002 - New York Post
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