Literature of the Holocaust
maintained by Al Filreis

New York Times
July 18, 1996

Paul Touvier, 81, French War Criminal


Paul Touvier, the only Frenchman to be convicted of war crimes against humanity and for half a century a troubling reminder of his country's ambivalence about World War II, died Wednesday at a prison hospital near Paris. He was 81.

Touvier had suffered from prostate cancer, prison officials said.

On April 20, 1994, Touvier became the first Frenchman to be found guilty of war-related crimes against humanity for ordering the execution of seven Jews 50 years earlier, while he was serving in a pro-Nazi militia that had been set up by the collaborationist Vichy government.

As he was sentenced to life imprisonment, Touvier continued to insist that he had sent the seven Jews to their deaths on June 29, 1944, at Rillieux-la-Pape near Lyon as a last resort to save the lives of 23 others who had also been marked for death.

In Touvier's telling, the Germans at first had wanted 100 Jews put to death in retaliation for the assassination of Philippe Henriot, the Vichy minister of information, by Resistance fighters in Paris. The Vichy militia in which he was a leader bargained the Germans down to 30 Jews, Touvier said, and he ordered the seven slain to appease the Nazis.

"I have never forgotten the victims of Rillieux," Touvier said as his sentence was pronounced. "I think of them every day, every evening."

But even half a century after the killings, there were French people who remembered a far different Paul Touvier from the one he himself recalled. They called him "the hangman of Lyon" and "the French Barbie," after Klaus Barbie, the Lyon Gestapo chief whom Touvier served as intelligence chief of the local militia.

Investigators and French people old enough to remember the war said Touvier was an enthusiastic acolyte to Barbie, and that his crimes went far beyond the deaths of the seven Jews who faced the firing squad at Rillieux-la-Pape.

Touvier was suspected of having a role in the January 1944 deaths of a prominent human-rights leader and his wife, who were taken from their homes by Vichy militia and Gestapo raiders and shot, as well as a raid on a synagogue whose caretakers, a husband and wife, were deported to Auschwitz and never seen again, and a raid on a fairground near Lyon, where 57 Spanish refugees were rounded up and deported to death camps.

After the war Touvier went into hiding. Convicted in absentia of treason and consorting with the enemy for helping to torture and kill Resistance members, he was sentenced to death just after the war.

As he would later tell his captors, he remained free for a while by using phony identity papers and earning money by selling bootleg chocolate to candy stores and passing counterfeit currency. He was arrested in 1947 while trying to hold up a bakery, but he managed to escape and lived in hiding with his new wife, Monique, and their daughter, Chantal, and son, Pierre, who survive him.

The statute of limitations for the crimes he was convicted of just after the war expired in 1967. In 1971 President Georges Pompidou granted him what amounted to a pardon, permitting him to return to Lyon and recover his property.

Pompidou's pardon, granted after he was quietly lobbied by some Roman Catholic Church officials, provoked a national outcry that intensified when it was revealed that much of the property Touvier called his own had really been seized from deported Jews.

The furor prompted legal action to have Touvier indicted for "crimes against humanity," which are not subject to statutes of limitation. Soon after being indicted in 1973, Touvier disappeared again.

He evaded the law until he was captured on May 24, 1989, at a Catholic monastery in Nice that was operated by followers of Msgr. Marcel Lefebvre, a right-wing cleric who had been excommunicated by the Vatican the year before. Touvier had spent several months in the monastery and had occasionally been seen walking near it dressed as a priest.

"I regret nothing," he said as he was taken into custody.

Revelations that he had been sheltered over the years by the Catholic church hierarchy in Lyon and later by right-wing clerics elsewhere reminded the French people of something many would prefer to forget: the comfortable wartime relationship between the French Catholic hierarchy and the puppet Vichy government, regarded by many clergymen as a savior from leftist politicians and ideas.

Klaus Barbie, Touvier's patron, died in prison in 1991.

Three other Vichy-era officials were charged with war-related crimes against humanity. Two are dead: Jean Leguay, accused of organizing a mass roundup of Jews in 1942, died of natural causes in 1989. Rene Bousquet, who was charged with ordering the deportation of 2,000 Jewish schoolchildren, was killed by a gunman in 1993.

Maurice Papon, who was police chief of Paris in the 1960s, was charged in 1982 with helping to deport Jews from Bordeaux during the war. He has yet to come to trial, and some Jewish groups have complained that he is evading prosecution by means of political connections.

Some historians say Touvier's contributions to the Vichy regime were less important than those of the other three. Indeed, nothing in his background suggests heroic deeds.

Aware that gambling and women were his chief interests as a teen-ager, Touvier's father, Francois, a tax collector in Chambery, got his son a job as a railroad clerk when he turned 21. But he was caught stealing cigarettes and chocolate from gift packages and almost lost his job.

He used the cigarettes and chocolate to woo young women, which infuriated his religiously conservative father. So the elder Touvier told his son to join the pro-Nazi Vichy militia, hoping that it would strengthen his character.

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