Papon to be buried with top honour, vows lawyer

19th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 18, 2007 (AFP) - Maurice Papon's lawyer vowed Sunday that the French Nazi collaborator would be laid to rest with the Legion of Honour even though he was stripped of the order for deporting Jews to Nazi death camps.Papon died Saturday in a hospital in the eastern Paris suburbs, four days after he underwent heart surgery. He was 96.

PARIS, Feb 18, 2007 (AFP) - Maurice Papon's lawyer vowed Sunday that the French Nazi collaborator would be laid to rest with the Legion of Honour even though he was stripped of the order for deporting Jews to Nazi death camps.Papon died Saturday in a hospital in the eastern Paris suburbs, four days after he underwent heart surgery. He was 96.

 "I will personally see to it that the cross of the commander of the Legion of Honour that was bestowed to him by Charles de Gaulle, for eternity, be placed with him in his casket," said lawyer Francis Vuillemin in a statement.

Papon was stripped of France's highest distinction by decree in November 1999 as is the case for any appointee to the Legion who is convicted of a crime.

A senior official under the wartime Vichy government, Papon was sentenced to 10 years in jail in 1998 for his role in organising the deportation of hundreds of Jews to Nazi Germany, where most of them died in extermination camps.

During the six-month trial, the longest in French history, Papon came to symbolize France's collaboration with the Nazis.

The parliamentary leader of the governing Union for Popular Movement (UMP), Bernard Accoyer, described the lawyer's request as "shocking" and said President Jacques Chirac would have to intervene "to ensure that nothing is done to tarnish this symbolic distinction."

The Socialist Party said allowing Papon to be buried with his medal would be "a hurtful gesture towards the victims and the families of victims of deportation."

A court in Melun near Paris had already condemned Papon in October 2004 to pay a 2,500-euro (3,280-dollar) fine for illegally wearing the order after a photo of him with the medal pinned to his chest appeared in a magazine.

He was also ordered to pay one euro in damages to the Grand Chancellor of the Legion which lodged the complaint.

Vuillemin said Papon's family had yet to set a date for the funeral.

Papon was inducted into the Legion of Honour on November 9, 1962 while serving as Paris police chief, and was made a commander of the order, the third highest rank after Grand officer and Grand crosses.

During Papon's trial, Vuillemin had asked that his client be allowed to continue wearing the order "for the pure and simple reason that it was General de Gaulle in person, as the premier leader of the French resistance, who pinned the medal on him."

Papon was convicted of complicity in crimes against humanity, after the court rejected his plea that he was a civil servant following instructions from above.

His release in 2002 on medical grounds angered Jewish groups, who said that at his trial he never expressed sorrow for the victims of his bureaucratic zeal.

One of the lawyers representing the victims during the trial said the Nazi collaborator went to his grave without ever feeling remorseful for his actions.

"We never succeeded in bringing the henchman back to humanity," Gerard Boulanger told AFP. "Maurice Papon never understood and never admitted to what he had done. "

For Juliette Benzazon, 77, who lost 12 family members under the deportation orders, Papon was also unrepentant to the end.

"He was a man who did not want to recognizewhat he had done, who did not want to ask forgiveness from us or from the Grand rabbi. He had no regrets, he said he was a civil servant."

But the president of the association of families of deported Jews, Serge Klarsfeld, said "happily, Papon lived long enough to be tried, convicted and sent to prison."

Papon fled to Switzerland in 1999 on the eve of his appeal, but he was repatriated and served three years at La Sante prison in Paris.

The 1998 verdict came after Chirac had for the first time acknowledged French responsibility in the Jewish genocide, and appeared to confirm a new willingness to face up to the country's wartime past.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, WWII, Papon

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