French History Goes On Trial in France

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High Vichy Functionary Gets Four-
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Paris:- Saturday, 11. October 1997:- After a couple of weeks of warmups, France got ready to look its history in the eye last week.

A couple of weeks ago the French Catholic church formally apologized to Jews for its singular lack of Christian ethics or moral or any other support during the events of the Second World War in France.

With this, the church followed President Jacques Chirac by two years, who said in 1995 that the French state had an 'inextinguishable guilt' for its actions. This last summer, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin added, "these disgraceful acts against jewish French citizens were decided, planned and carried out by the French."

Early in the week, a leading official of France's major police union, said the national police wished to apologize for actions carried out by their colleagues during the war.

On Wednesday, Maurice Papon, 87, appeared in court in Bordeaux, charged with aiding and abetting crimes against humanity; charges resulting from his important war-time function as first secretary to the Prefect of Bordeaux.

Mr. Papon occupied this position between June 1942 and August 1944. In early July of 1942, jewish men, women and children in the Bordeaux region were rounded up under his orders. Between 18. July of 1942 and 13. May of 1944, 1,560 jews were shipped from Bordeaux to Drancy near Paris and from there were transported to Auschwitz. Only eight returned.

According to Daniel Amson, professor of law, almost the entire apparatus of state administration and courts, and a very large part of the general populace of France, sympathized with the French government, located at the spa town of Vichy. General Charles de Gaulle, in London, had been declared a traitor by the French state, and had few followers.

Not the Nazi's Gestapo, but 4,500 French police, rounded up 8,000 Parisian jews on 16 and 17. July 1942. They were locked up in the vélodrôme 'Vel d'Hiv' near the Tour Eiffel, before they were freighted eastwards.

The purely French black-suited militia, on orders from the Gestapo, hunted resisters and jews for shipping to their deaths in the east, and they often went beyond their orders, picking up children under 16; who were unsought by the Nazis.

After the war, in an effort to unite France, practically everybody was invited to declare their adherence to the war-time Resistance. In order to run the country, the 'Vichy' administrators were recycled into 'Republicans.'

Mr. Papon came off well. He was Prefect in Constantine in Algeria during the late '50's when Algerians, who were fighting for independence from France, were tortured.

He was Prefect of the Paris police on 17. October 1961, when between 200 and 300 demonstrating Algerians were shot, beaten and Cirque d'Hiver drowned. He was still the boss during a leftist demo in February of 1962, when nine anti-OAS demonstrators were left for dead at métro Charonne. He is on trial for none of this; indeed he became a cabinet member of the government in 1978.

This is the Cirque d'Hiver near République, not to be confused with the 'Vel d'Hiv.'

When in 1981 the satirical weekly newspaper, 'Le Canard Enchainé,' pointed out Papon's role in the war-time deportations, President Mitterrand publicly stated, "The Republic had nothing to do with it." Charges against Papon were dropped in 1987.

This man, named by the French war ministry as an enemy agent in 1945, managed to be awarded not only a 'Legion d'Honneur,' but also a 'Resistance Medal.'

Last Wednesday, fifty people who have lodged civil charges against Papon, their lawyers, 400 mostly French journalists and at least 130 witnesses were in court in Bordeaux, to take part in and witness the new trial of Maurice Papon.

According to a poll conducted for Le Parisien, 57 percent of the French are interested in the trial and 42 percent have little interest or none.

In contrast, 76 percent think the trial will shed light on the role of 'Vichy' - the unofficial name of the government during the occupation of France during the war - and 75 percent of those polled think the trial will expose the dangers of racism to the young.

In a surprise move yesterday, the court agreed to allow Maurice Papon to remain at liberty during the trial for health reasons. This effectively means he will also remain free during the eventual appeal, and as he is 87 now, he will probably never serve any time behind bars.

Throughout Friday, radio reports said that Papon would probably be detained for the duration of the trial in a hospital clinic. Instead, protected by police, he had dinner at a fancy restaurant at Margaux and passed the night in a luxurious but secluded château-hôtel. Radio-Info said this morning it has a four-star rating.

Web sites devoted to the History and Trial of Maurice Papon

Eight members of the Matisson family were gassed at Auschwitz. The Matisson family were the first to launch a civil case against Maurice Papon, in 1981. Jean-Marie Matisson runs the website, and reports from the courtroom. At the website, click on 'Affaire Papon.'

Another website of interest contains daily coverage of the trial by the Bordeaux paper, the Sud Ouest.

Worker's Paradise - In the Year 2000

Last week the government called a big meeting of labor leaders, employer groups, political parties, and with the government in the chair, they sat down to discuss the possibility of the introduction of a legal-standard 35-hour work week.

On Friday, the Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin said a law would be passed to fix the legal working week to 35 hours, on 1. January 2000. And the subtext of this, is that the present 39-hours of salary will not be reduced.

Employers' associations are officially opposed to this measure. But many companies, in anticipation, have already moved or are preparing plans for the eventuality of the 35-hour work week.

Union leaders see it as a great victory; a large blow in the fight to reduce unemployment in France. Officially, the government also believes this. Politically, it is a major event because this measure was major plank in the Socialist Party's election platform.

From a historical perspective, the measure might be a signal of a major change in the way the French work and play.

The majority f France's 'smokestack' industries have already succumbed to low-wage competition throughout the world, so this change in the legal working week has no effect on an area which has already disappeared.

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