Document shows WWII French leader widened anti-Jewish law

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A French Nazi hunter announced Sunday the discovery of the original document establishing WWII restrictions for Jews showing that Vichy leader Philippe Petain made stringent measures even harsher.

"The discovery of this plan is fundamental. This document establishes Petain's decisive role in drawing up this position in the most aggressive way, revealing (Petain's) deep anti-Semitism," Serge Klarsfeld told AFP.

Petain, a military hero in World War I, became head of the rump state based at Vichy in central France which collaborated with the German Nazi occupiers following defeat in World War II.

The pencilled-in changes to the document, from October 1940, are a "profound alteration" of the document's nature, Klarsfeld said.

While the original set out to exclude "descendants of Jews born French or naturalised before 1860", Petain crossed out this reference, thus applying the measures to all Jews in France.

The scope of Jews' exclusion is considerably widened, with the minority being barred from jobs in teaching and the judiciary as well as prevented from standing for elected office.

"The main argument of Petain's defenders was to say that he protected French Jews. This argument has now fallen," he said.

The document came to light after an anonymous donor handed it in to the Holocaust Memorial in Paris, Klarsfeld said.

Klarsfeld and his son Arno, also a lawyer, compared the script to known examples of the wartime leader's handwriting and there is "no doubt" that the annotations are his, he said.

After Germany's defeat Petain was tried by the provisional French government of General Charles de Gaulle, who commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment, and he died in 1951.

© 2010 AFP

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