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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://www.humanite.fr/journal/2007...

by Maurice Ulrich

Maurice Papon’s Cynicism and Death

Translated Monday 19 March 2007, by Chidubem

Dead at the age of 96 years on Saturday [February 10, 2007], the former minister never admitted his role in the imprisonment of 1645 Jews in concentration camps, as he never showed any regret for anything he did.

There are some silences which speak volumes. Yesterday, a day after Maurice Papon’s death, the only two reported political reactions were those from Marie-George Buffet and François Hollande. The old man, who died at Pontault –Combault (Seine-et-Marne) at the age of 96 – a fine longevity for a man who was released from prison in 2002 because of his dramatic state of health – did not die alone. He had around him sinister shadows of a certain France; these were the memories of Vichy and of the collaboration, but also later, those of the Algerian war and much later than that, those of the government he served in.

Maurice Papon ‘organized the trains’

The Secretary General of the provincial government - the prefecture - of the Gironde who wrote in 1942, echoing the Nazis’ asking for a round up of the Jews, “We can to follow the orders from the SS”, was the same governor of Paris who covered up, if he did not actually organize, the dreadful day of 17th October 1961. It is the man from Charonne, the same man who was Valery Giscard d’Estaing’s Budget Minister from 1975 – 1981; a criminal of a statesman – and, in a way, in the nastiest, filthiest period – an embodiment of the state. And no one at that time in history would say that they did not know this man in question.

Maurice Papon’s childhood was like, one might say of anyone, a French childhood. Born in 1909 into an affluent family, qualified in the Arts and Political Science, he was only 21 years when he attained a position of power. Adviser to the Minister of the Airforce in the radical-socialist government of Pierre Laval, who was to become the very person behind the collaboration and very close to Pétain, who wanted Germany to win the war, he became Minister of the Interior before being put in charge of Public Relations for the Senate.

Briefly drafted when war was declared, then demobilized for health reasons – already - he went back to Vichy from 1940, where he was appointed Deputy Governor. In June 1942, appointed as Secretary General in Gironde, under Governor Maurice Sabatier’s authority whom he had known at the Interior Ministry, he became“responsible for the Jewish question”. And showing the importance h attached to this “question” he did wasted no time giving his answer to the "question". From the summer of 1942 to May 1944, he organized the imprisonment of the 1645 Jews in a concentration camp: men and women, out of whom 240 were less than 18 years. At the time of his trial, he denied ever having any knowledge of their whereabouts. He ran the trains …

At the Liberation, he amazingly succeeded in negotiating his release and obtained for himself "certificates for Resistance". He was appointed the governor of Landes. Was this all done without knowing? De Gaulle needed to reorganize the State, greatly concerned with the communist influence, which was then just begionning to exert a major influence in a number of regions. With Maurice Papon, one knew he could be counted on. This was at the expense of certain motivated slips of memory. And he was going to be counted upon. After the Landes, it was Constantine (in Algeria), during the darkest days of the Algerian war. The governor that he was, could he have overlooked the torture, the summary killings, the massacres? It however showed that he was so effective that De Gaulle, right from the time he was in power, appointed him the Governor of Paris.

October 17, 1965: thousands of Algerians carried out a peaceful demonstration against a curfew which was imposed on them. Raids, beatings, arrests en masse. Many of them, about 300 perhaps, we will never know, were drowned at the Seine by the Police.

February 8, 1962: thousands of Parisians demonstrated against the bloody murder attempts by the OAS [Organisation de l’armée secrete: an illegal military organization supporting French rule of Algeria]. The Police overreacted, rounded them up at the entrance of the Charonne tube station and threw metal nets over the men and women found there. Nine of them were later found dead.

On the February 12, 1962, hundreds of thousands of Parisians protested.

A public figure representing order and power

In 1967, Maurice Papon left of the his job as a a provincial governor to become Chairman and Managing Director of a strategic arms group, Southern Aviation. Nopt all governors are beneficiaries of such confidence.

In 1975, de Gaulle

Maurice Papon, Commander of the Légion d’honneur, was the epitome of order and power. But the families of those deported from Bordeaux could not forget. In 1981, following the publication in the newspapers of documents signed by him on the deportation, a judiciary information was once again opened against him. The battle of procedure by his lawyers to avoid the legal proceedings was to last for seventeen years.

Meanwhile, the French militiaman, Paul Touvier, and the SS hangman, Klaus Barbie, were judged. The legal proceeding on Papon was going to last for 6 months. Some dozens of witnesses came to the witness box. The emotion was considerable. Others, the barons from Gaullism, like Pierre Messmer or Olivier Guichard, testified in favour of the accused. The court held back only retained the charges of Papon’s complicity for four convoys of deportees. Sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, Maurice Papon ran away to Gstaad. He deliberately organized his disappearance so as not to pay the amount of money due to the concerned parties. Arrested, he could only spent 3 years in prison. As soon as he was released, he went out to a big restaurant, celebrating and toasting with a glass of very expensive wine.

Only three years of imprisonment

Maurice Papon is dead. Witnesses and journalists, who had been present during the Papon’s trial, took note of his coldness, his cynicism, his indifference to the fate of his victims. In all that he did, Maurice Papon never regretted any of his actions, from Bordeaux to Paris. One does not usually experience such sentiments towards a dead person, but the only epitaph that comesto us, is that this man truly merits the contempt of men.

* Yesterday about sixty people symbolically named a tube station, under construction at Gennevilliers, “17 October – 1961”, in homage of the Algerians who were killed on that day, during the suppression of a banned demonstration by the Algerian Freedom Fighters, when Maurice Papon was the Paris Police Chief.