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Court Revisits Case of French Nazi Collaborator

The case of a high French official convicted of Nazi war crimes is active once again: A French court is reviewing the request for an appeal by Maurice Papon, unleashing anger in the Jewish community.

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Maurice Papon during an earlier court appearance

France's highest court on Friday will once again take up the case of 93-year-old convicted Nazi collaborator Maurice Papon -- the most senior official from the pro-Nazi Vichy regime tried for crimes against humanity and for helping send Jews to Nazi death camps.

During the Nazi occupation, Papon oversaw the Bordeaux area police and signed orders that led to the deportation of 1,690 Jews from 1942 to 1944. Most of those deported perished in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Papon rose through the ranks of French politics following World War II, becoming chief of the Paris police in 1958, and later national Budget Minister under Valerie Giscard d'Estaing.

But in 1981 his wartime record was revealed when documents were unearthed showing that he had authorized the deportations.

Too sick to serve

Papon has argued that he didn't know the fate of the Jews he deported, and that he had to deport them to keep his job at the time. Despite his claims of innocence, he was convicted of crimes against humanity six years ago. But he walked out of prison in 2002 after a court ruled him too old and sick to finish his 10-year sentence.

The decision outraged the victims of France's wartime regime and their families. Yet the Court of Cassation, France's highest court, will now study an appeal request to clear Papon's name.

This time, the judges won't look at the question of Papon's guilt or innocence, but rather focus on obscure legal problems that occurred during his trial. The procedure is not an appeal as such, but a review by the court to decide whether or not a new appeal can take place. Judges are expected to rule on the matter June 16.

Papon has launched many appeals because he believes justice was fundamentally not carried out during the drawn-out legal battles which began over twenty years ago.

Touching a nerve

He claims not to regret his actions during the war, and says he can't be held partially responsible for Holocaust crimes, because he was removed by several "links in the chain" from the murders that took place in concentration camps.

The question of indirect collaboration with war crimes touched a sensitive nerve in France, where the media has periodically pounced on the case, and reopened public dialogue about the extent of Nazi sympathy in France during World War II.

Papon says his goal now is to clear his name for history. But Jewish groups say he should still be in prison, citing his lack of remorse.

When Papon walked free in 2002, the U.S.-based Simon Wiesenthal Center called the release "a bad case of misplaced sympathy."

A frequent problem

France has not been the only nation faced with the problem of high officials with Nazi pasts. As recently as last month, a decision by Germany's Christian Democrats to include a former state premier with a history of Nazi activity as a delegate to the presidential election was harshly criticized by Jewish groups and left-wing politicians.

Hans Filbinger, 90, was forced to resign as premier of the southern state of Baden-Württemberg in 1978 after it emerged that as a naval judge he shared responsibility for handing down death sentences in the waning months of Nazi Germany.Probably the best-known case is that of Austria's Kurt Waldheim. A widely esteemed former secretary general of the United Nations, he was running for president of Austria in March 1986 when it came to light that he had participated in Nazi atrocities during World War II. Despite this, he served as his country's head of state until 1992.

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