In December 1942, the Pétainist journal France: Revue de l’Etat Nouveau published an article by François Mitterrand, who was then twenty-six years old. He had escaped from a German prison camp and was working for the Vichy regime in the office that helped other returned prisoners of war adjust to life in occupied France. The article was entitled “Pilgrimage to Thuringia,” and it recounted a trip Mitterrand had made some two and a half years before in a “miserable convoy” of French soldiers who, having been captured during the Nazi attack on France, were being transported to Germany.
Mitterrand’s essay is a gloomy reflection on the tragedy of France, inspired by his observation of the German countryside. It contains no pronouncements that would strike one as very objectionable today. Still, in its contempt for France’s “corrupt regime” of the past and its “incompetent men,” the article strikes some notes characteristic of many Frenchmen at the time, who saw in Marshal Pétain a man who stood for the old-fashioned virtues and France’s best hope of eventual national salvation.
Few would suggest that Mitterrand be condemned for his mistakes of half a century ago, especially since he left Vichy early in 1943 and joined the Resistance. Indeed, his postwar career as a Radical-Socialist politician was made possible by his record in the underground. But the more one looks at the Vichy period of his life, the more questions arise. Mitterrand was willing to write for a Pétainist journal—and to do so two years after Vichy’s anti-Semitic legislation had gone into effect. The journal in which Mitterrand’s article was published had been founded by a friend of his, Gabriel Jeantet, an ardent Pétainist who, in the pages of his publication, blamed France’s problems on
a gang of international financiers, Talmudist prophets, Communists in Stalin’s pay, and incompetent politicians.
As the journalist Catherine Ney pointed out in her biography of Mitterrand, The Red and the Black, the future president had two or three friends, Jeantet among them, in the Cagoule, the ultra-right-wing anti-Communist underground group that once carried out assassinations for Mussolini. “Pilgrimage to Thuringia” put Mitterrand’s essay, she writes, into “embarrassing proximity” with some of the blatant anti-Semitic writings published in the same issue. In one article, entitled “The Condition of the Jews in Rome Under the Papacy,” the Vichy ideologue Louis de Gérin-Ricard declares:
Few examples in history provide a more accurate idea of the Semite peril than the way Rome had to treat the Jews—who encouraged prostitution, gambling, the receiving of stolen goods, and homosexuality.
Mitterrand’s ambiguous past is mentioned from time to time in the recent intense controversy over a small group of prominent Vichy collaborators who have been indicted for crimes against humanity because they are alleged to have taken part in the anti-Semitic atrocities that took place in France during World War II, especially deportations of tens of thousands of Jews. Recently, in April, there was widespread protest in France when a court in Paris dismissed charges against one of them, Paul Touvier, the chief of the pro-Nazi militia in Lyons. But well before the Touvier affair, attention was already focused on a group of elderly men who were indicted yet never brought to trial under Mitterrand’s socialist government.
Chief among them is René Bousquet, the highest police official in the Vichy government, who was directly involved in deporting many Jews, including many children, to the East in 1942 and 1943. In 1949, after some three years of detention, Bousquet became one of the last of the top Vichy officials to be put on trial for collaboration with the Germans. He was sentenced only to five years of “national indignity,” meaning that he couldn’t vote or hold office until 1954, and even that penalty was suspended after Bousquet convinced the court that he had engaged in what were called “acts of resistance” by preventing some people from being arrested. During the three days of his judicial hearing, only about an hour or two was devoted to his part in deporting the Jews, and this no doubt reflected the importance the French authorities were willing to give the issue at the time.
The charge of crimes against humanity is now being pressed against Bousquet by a Jewish group led by the French lawyer Serge Klarsfeld, who, along with his German-born wife, Beate, has become famous for tracking down former Nazis. Klarsfeld believes that the French government never seriously prosecuted Bousquet for what now appears to have been his most heinous act, ordering the French police to round up the Jews who were to be sent to the East. Also under indictment for crimes against humanity until his death two years ago was Bousquet’s delegate in Paris, Jean Leguay, whose case dragged on for ten years and never came to trial. Another high Vichy official, Maurice Papon, was indicted in 1980 for complicity in the deportation of more than 1,600 Jews from the Bordeaux region, but he too has not so far been tried.
There is an obvious moral distinction between these men, who were deeply involved in collaborationism, and a minor and very young functionary like Mitterrand. Indeed, even while he was at Vichy, Mitterrand, using the code name Morland, had contacts with the Resistance, and supplied some of its members with false identity cards. A month or so after his article appeared in France: Revue de l’Etat Nouveau, he traveled to Algiers to see De Gaulle and became head of a Resistance group made up of former prisoners of war. It is true that Mitterrand, in his speeches and writings, has never fully explained how he came to be awarded the francisque, the Pétainist medal (actually a Frankish axe worn on the lapel) given to those deemed especially faithful to the Marshal. Mitterrand was probably given this decoration in absentia since, by the time it was awarded, he was on his way back to France from his meeting with De Gaulle in Algiers.
Still, many French with memories of the war are well aware that Mitterrand, and thousands of other Frenchmen reeling from the shock of defeat, were at least temporarily on the same side as the men now being judicially pursued. For nearly forty years following the war the French government, and most French Jews, did not seem eager to punish either the high-ranking collaborators who escaped the special courts set up to deal with senior Vichy officials, or those like Bousquet who were treated very leniently by them. Only during the last decade or so has there been a shift to a more prosecutorial mood among the French population. But one conclusion that could be drawn from experiences such as Mitterrand’s is that the wartime period may have been too murky and confused to be judged fairly fifty years later by a generation that never lived under the pressures of occupation.
A contrary suggestion has also been made and with considerable vehemence. This is that the minor but awkward collaboration with Vichy by people such as Mitterrand has led them into the same sort of indulgent attitude toward French participation in the Final Solution that enabled men like Bousquet to escape heavy punishment for so long. The government, in this view, has done its best to delay the prosecutions, because any public trial would be an embarrassment to many in the wartime generation who not only have an ambiguous record on Vichy itself but have failed to admit the extent of French collaborationism. This charge has produced one of the most dramatic confrontations in the ongoing debate, between two prominent French Jews.
One of them is Bousquet’s chief adversary, Serge Klarsfeld. The other is Georges Kiejman, one of the most famous trial lawyers in France. He is now the deputy minister of foreign affairs, for a few months he was deputy minister of justice. Both men are prominent lawyers. Both men grew up in France in the early 1940s, the sons of fathers who were deported to their deaths during the war, Kiejman’s very possibly by the French police commanded by René Bousquet. Yet they have publicly and angrily taken opposite sides of the central question, which is whether to press for the prosecution of René Bousquet or not.
As Klarsfeld and others have made clear, a striking fact about the Frenchmen indicted for crimes against humanity is that, except for Touvier, each of them had an entirely successful career in France after the war. Bousquet was born in 1909 in Montauban, the son of a notary public active as a member of the moderately leftist Radical-Socialist party. The young Bousquet studied law in Toulouse, and rose swiftly in the ranks of the French state bureaucracy. His career, according to the journalist Eric Conan, who wrote a long article on Bousquet in the weekly L’Express, “began exceptionally and it stayed that way.” When he was just twenty-one years old, a young chief of staff to a local préfet, Bousquet won the Legion of Honor and the “Médaille d’or des belles actions” (the gold medal for heroic acts) for leaping into raging flood waters in Tarn-et-Garonne and rescuing a number of people caught in the torrent. Nationally famous and sponsored by well-connected figures of the Radical-Socialist left, he held senior administrative posts both in Paris and in the provinces; at the age of thirty-one, after the German invaders divided France into occupied and non-occupied zones, he became préfet regional for the Marne region—the youngest person in the country to hold so high a position.
Bousquet was not a Nazi sympathizer, and apparently had nothing to do with such proto-fascist groups as the Croix de Feu or the Cagoule. He does not seem to have been an anti-Semite or a right-wing ideologue, either before the war or after. He was a bright, ambitious, physically courageous young technocrat who, after his years as a high official in the Vichy government, resumed his successful career, now in private business. He was a senior executive at the Banque d’Indochine, served on the corporate boards of a dozen or so companies, and was for a time the director of the newspaper Dépêche du Midi. He appears to have lived the respectable and rather quiet life of a member of the haute bourgeoisie in Paris’s sixteenth arrondisement.
In 1978, however, everything changed. That year L’Express published the deathbed interview of Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, the former commissioner for the Jewish Question in Vichy France, who had escaped to Spain after the war and lived there under an assumed name for the rest of his life. Darquier, attempting to exculpate himself, named Bousquet as the official who was directly responsible for rounding up Jews in both the occupied and the nonoccupied zones of France, and who, unlike Darquier himself, had the authority to order the French police to arrest Jews. The brilliant young bureaucrat was once again revealed as the commissioner of police in the Vichy government between April 1941 and December 1943, the worst period of Vichy’s collaboration in the Final Solution.
This became known just as Vichy’s responsibility for the deaths of 75,000 Jews was beginning to get more public attention than ever before. Marcel Ophuls’s The Sorrow and the Pity, originally made for German television but rejected for broadcast by French television, had been shown in Germany and the US in 1972, and was appearing in French movie theaters. French Jewish groups, particularly the Sons and Daughters of the Deported Jews of France, founded by Klarsfeld in 1978, had conducted a successful campaign to force the German government to put on trial the major Nazi officials who had presided over the Final Solution in France (as, later, they brought pressure to arrest Klaus Barbie in Bolivia and have him tried in Lyon). Klarsfeld then turned his attention to the effort to prosecute the high French officials who had collaborated directly with the Germans in carrying out the wartime deportations of Jews.
Bousquet was not at first on Klarsfeld’s list, though protests about Bousquet in 1979 by the Sons and Daughters of the Deported Jews of France forced him to resign from his post at the Banque d’Indochine. Instead, Klarsfeld filed a complaint against Jean Leguay, Bousquet’s deputy in the occupied zone and the man who, among other things, directed the notorious roundup in the Vélodrome d’Hiver of July 16, 1942, in Paris, which resulted in the shipment of over 13,000 Jews to the East. Leguay became the first French citizen ever to be formally indicted for crimes against humanity, a category of crime recognized by the French parliament in 1964 and the only crime that had no statute of limitations under French law.
Why should Leguay have been prosecuted instead of his superior Bousquet? As Klarsfeld explains it, the reason for filing charges against senior French officials was less to seek vengeance against one person or another than to establish for historical memory what Vichy France officials, especially the police, did to annihilate Jews during the war. Klarsfeld wants to show that the Jews in France lived under the threat not only of the Gestapo but of virtually the entire state bureaucracy of France. To prosecute Leguay was preferable, Klarsfeld told me, because Bousquet’s part in deporting Jews had already been mentioned, if only perfunctorily, in his trial in 1949. To avoid the defense of double jeopardy in a new trial Bousquet’s accusers would have to show that “new facts” had been discovered in his case. Klarsfeld believes that there are indeed new facts regarding Bousquet but the courts might not have agreed. And so Leguay, who had never stood trial, and had a successful career working for French companies in the US and Britain, was chosen as the defendant whose record would demonstrate to the French public the guilt of the Vichy authorities.
Leguay’s case never came to trial. In the French system criminal proceedings can appear to be following a normal course even while, in reality, they are being slowed down by political pressure. After a suspect is indicted, a juge d’instruction is assigned by the chambre d’accusation, a kind of grand jury consisting of three judges, to collect evidence, a proceeding that can take many months and is normally followed by a decision of the chambre d’accusation to proceed to a trial. But the chambre d’accusation can be slow in starting the instruction, which itself can stretch over a period of years. In 1989 Leguay died at the age of eighty-one, having been under indictment for ten years, and his dossier was closed. In an unusual move, however, the juge d’instruction issued a statement making clear his own finding that Leguay had indeed been guilty of crimes against humanity.
Klarsfeld, still wanting to put on trial a senior Vichy official who had deported Jews, turned his attention to Bousquet. The civil complaint he filed against him led to a formal indictment in 1989 and to opening an instruction. Some French lawyers argue that the dossier compiled against Leguay should be valid in the Bousquet case, so there should be no need to prepare an entirely new instruction from the beginning. Nonetheless, as in the case of Leguay, the prosecution of Bousquet has been very slow. In a much cited article in Le Monde, the legal expert Laurent Greilsamer accused the government of exerting political pressure to slow down the case, and he quoted an unnamed official in Mitterrand’s office, to the effect that a concern not to disturb the “civil peace” was uppermost in the authorities’ minds. It was then that Klarsfeld accused the French government and President Mitterrand of having “a certain indulgence” toward Vichy. When I spoke to a senior official at the Palais de Justice this autumn, he denied that there had been any politically inspired slowdown of the case against Bousquet. Assuming that Bousquet survives long enough, he might still be tried, the official said: “Not in 1991 or 1992; possibly in 1993.”
Since that conversation, efforts to bring another French collaborator to trial have been blocked by the French courts. The Paris chambre d’accusation dismissed the case against Paul Touvier, the intelligence chief of the wartime militia in Lyon. Touvier’s is a remarkable history. He was sentenced to death in absentia in 1946 and 1947 for collaboration with the Nazis, but he was helped to evade capture by a network of right-wing Catholic priests and laymen. In 1967, the statute of limitations ran out on his earlier convictions. He was pardoned anyway by President Georges Pompidou in 1971 to enable him to recover confiscated property. Then he was arrested in 1989 and indicted for crimes against humanity, charged specifically with having selected seven Jews to be executed in reprisal for the assassination of a high-ranking Vichy official by the French Resistance. An eighth hostage, the only one who was not a Jew, was released unharmed.
The court, whose decision is being appealed, found that his action was not a crime against humanity. The court’s decision was so obtuse that virtually the entire political establishment condemned it and Mitterrand himself expressed “surprise” at the outcome. A public opinion poll conducted by the newspaper Le Parisien showed that 70 percent of the French public was “shocked” by the court’s decision. Touvier was not guilty of crimes against humanity, the judges said, because Vichy was not systematically carrying out a “plan to impose ideological hegemony.” To defend this conclusion the judges claimed that Jews had never been declared enemies of the Vichy state; they thus simply ignored the fifty-six laws and decrees that barred Jews from most occupations, also allowed them to be interned in special camps, and even prohibited them from entering the department where the Vichy government was located—all of this “in the name of the Marshal of France.”1
Meanwhile, the case against the other high-ranking indicted Vichy official, Maurice Papon, the governor of the Bordeaux region during the war, has made some slow progress. It may soon come before the chambre d’accusation, which will then decide whether a trial will take place within the next two years or so. Papon had a distinguished career after the war, becoming minister of the budget in the government of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in the 1970s. But it is Bousquet, the highest-ranking former Vichy official under indictment, whose case had, at least until Touvier’s case was dismissed, aroused the deepest emotions and the sharpest conflicts in France, particularly between Klarsfeld and Kiejman. Serge Klarsfeld has been outspoken in claiming that the government is trying to delay the case against Bousquet, and this led him into public conflict with Kiejman.
Georges Kiejman was for many years among the most celebrated trial lawyers in France. I first met him when he represented the United States government in the trial of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, a Lebanese terrorist who had murdered an American diplomat in Strasbourg. The French prosecutor was clearly worried about terrorist reprisals if Abdallah were convicted of murder, and asked that Abdallah be treated leniently. Kiejman, however, was unrelenting and brilliant in establishing Abdallah’s guilt, and, in a show of judicial independence, the three-judge panel sentenced Abdallah to life imprisonment.
One week after Kiejman was appointed deputy minister of justice last October 1, the government tried to stop Bousquet’s prosecution. The procureur general, Pierre Truche, who had prosecuted Klaus Barbie in 1987, somewhat preposterously argued that Bousquet could be legally tried only by the Special High Court of Justice, a body set up after World War II that had long been defunct. This decision was soon over-ruled by the chambre d’accusation and the case started to inch forward. Still, Truche’s strange argument seemed part of a blatant effort to bury the Bousquet case once and for all. “Nothing,” Le Monde said, “could be more pathetic than this voluntary paralysis of the judicial machinery.” Among those who agreed with that statement was Klarsfeld. He called on Kiejman to resign in protest and asserted he would be responsible for injustice if he did not: “A son of a deported Jew,” he said, “was named vice minister of justice in order to assure the immunity of the Vichy chief of police.”
Kiejman was asked by the newspaper Liberation to comment on Klarsfeld’s statement. “Despite my esteem for Serge Klarsfeld, I don’t have to take any lessons from him,” he said. “Above and beyond the need to fight against forgetfulness, it is also important to maintain civil peace,”—using the same term, la paix civile that Le Monde had earlier attributed to an official at the presidential palace. “There are,” Kiejman said, “other ways besides a trial to denounce the cowardice of the Vichy regime.” In revealing Vichy’s crimes, he said, the work of historians can be more telling than that of courts and police officials.
Klarsfeld is a relentless avenger for whom Bousquet’s dossier is only one among many. He wants to prosecute the most important Nazi official still at large, Alois Brunner, a henchman of Adolf Eichmann in Czechoslovakia, Greece, and France, who has been seen in Syria, where he has been protected by the government of Hafiz al-Assad, although it denies all knowledge of him. Klarsfeld has also accumulated a vast collection of materials on the Holocaust throughout Europe, his goal being to assemble in separate volumes lists of the names of victims of genocide in each country. His book Vichy-Auschwitz, a two-volume account of the role of Vichy in the Final Solution, includes hundreds of documents—police telegrams, minutes of meetings, correspondence between Vichy and Paris and between Paris and Berlin—whose flat bureaucratic language reveals Vichy’s involvement in the persecution of the Jews, and it is in this volume that the documentary evidence against Bousquet can be found. Among the key documents is a cable of October 15, 1942, to the French police headquarters, in which Bousquet reaffirms the decision of the German authorities
to transfer to the territories in the East the Jews living in the Paris region and belonging to the following categories: stateless, Germans, Austrians, Czechoslovakians, Poles, Russians, refugees from the Saar.
The Germans, Bousquet’s cable goes on, have “invited” the French authorities “to round up the Jews belonging to these categories in camps in the occupied zone from which they will proceed to their transfer.” Bousquet continues: “I request that you take all useful measures to this effect.”
For Klarsfeld the October 15 cable has a double meaning. First, it was missing from Bousquet’s dossier in 1949 and thus, in his view, satisfies the technical requirement that “new facts” be introduced into the case. It also shows that Bousquet had a decisive part in the mass deportations of Jews. “Only the minister of the interior, who was Laval, and beneath him Bousquet, the commissioner of the national police, could give orders to the Paris police chief,” Klarsfeld told me. If, moreover, Bousquet had not given the order and the Vichy authorities had refused to use their own police in the Jewish roundups, the Germans would have had enormous difficulty doing it themselves.
Michael Marrus and Robert Paxton write in Vichy France and the Jews that the Germans maintained only three battalions of police in France, between 2,500 and 3,000 men, not enough to carry out the Final Solution. If the French had not cooperated, this would have forced the Germans to make some difficult decisions—whether to increase their police forces and do the job themselves, or, perhaps, threaten reprisals for noncooperation, a policy that would have aroused greater anti-German feeling among the French. Thus, Klarsfeld argues, Bousquet’s order “to take all useful measures” was one of the most disastrous of the war. Yet, he says, Bousquet’s order never became a part of his 1949 trial for the simple reason that the magistrates did not know about it.
A second “new element” cited by Klarsfeld concerns the roundups and deportations of some 10,000 to 11,000 Jews in the unoccupied zone. The agreement between Vichy and the Germans specified that certain categories of Jews would not be deported, in particular children under eighteen whose parents had already been taken away, children five years of age and less, and their parents. Bousquet, according to Klarsfeld, apparently was concerned that the exemptions would prevent the French police from fulfilling the quota of 10,000 that they had promised to deliver from the free zone. He canceled the exemptions, with the result that many children and adults who would otherwise have been safe were instead sent to Auschwitz. The telegram in which Bousquet canceled the exemptions was in the dossier at the time of the 1949 trial, but it was not cited by the prosecution. As Klarsfeld put it, “Nobody said, ‘Bousquet, you canceled these exemptions and as a result hundreds of children were deported.’ So, the document is not new but the fact is new.”
Bousquet, in Klarsfeld’s view, bears full and direct responsibility for the worst of the Vichy atrocities. He told me that the 10,000 or so Jews sent East from unoccupied France were the only Jews lost in the Holocaust who came from a place without any German military presence. The argument, he said, is often made that if the French had not delivered the Jews, the Germans would have taken them anyway. The 1949 indictment against Bousquet mentioned, by way of mitigating his crimes, his claim to have extracted an important concession from the Germans, that the French police could round up and deport only stateless Jews while French Jews would be spared. But Klarsfeld says it is absurd to give Bousquet credit for saving Jews in the unoccupied zone, where there were no German police to arrest them anyway. Moreover, because the exempted categories were canceled, many children were deported to the gas chambers who would otherwise have been spared. To have canceled the exemptions and then deported the children, Klarsfeld argues, is just the kind of action that qualifies as a crime against humanity.
Kiejman, whom I interviewed in Paris last fall not long after his public dispute with Klarsfeld, told me he had been in considerable anguish over the question of Bousquet; he could, he said, be wrong, and he is not at all sure of the best course to follow. He readily acknowledged that it was troubling that no senior Vichy official has ever been put on trial primarily for the crimes committed in France against the Jews. “The judicial machinery,” he said, “has not been mobilized in the cases of Leguay and Bousquet.” He himself, he said, had nothing to do with either of the cases.
Kiejman expresses horror at the fact that Bousquet, as he put it, “has never uttered a word of regret or of compassion for the victims of the genocide, of which—seen in the best possible light for him—he was one of the instruments.” But Kiejman is still extremely uneasy about the prosecution of Bousquet, and for several reasons. First, there is the legal issue of double jeopardy. However unsatisfactory Bousquet’s trial may have been in 1949, Kiejman said, he should not be put on trial again for the same crime, even if Klarsfeld has found one or two documents that were not used against him. Beyond that, Kiejman is concerned that a trial of Bousquet in 1992 or 1993 would really be a trial of the French government and society of 1949 which refused to condemn him. People today, Kiejman argues, can hardly comprehend with any sympathy what it was like to have been defeated and to have lived under Nazi domination fifty years ago. For one generation to condemn the actions of another can easily be both facile and self-righteous. In this sense, Keijman argues, whatever may have been Bousquet’s crimes during the war, it is not right for one man to bear the consequences of the radical change in attitudes since 1949.
Perhaps, Kiejman said, expressing more a conjecture than a conviction, Bousquet, whose actions consisted of administrative decisions—unlike those of Barbie and Touvier, who were directly and personally involved in murder—may not have known what was going to be the fate of the Jews being shipped to the East. Today it seems almost obvious that he must have known, and Klarsfeld is convinced that he did know. But Kiejman observes that the Germans themselves used euphemisms to talk about the Jews. In his trial in 1949, Bousquet referred to those euphemisms. He spoke of German claims that the Jews were being shipped to a “special” zone being set up in Poland. True, if Bousquet had known the fate of the Jews, he surely would have lied about it at his trial. Still, after fifty years have passed, how can judges be certain beyond a reasonable doubt what bureaucrats of that period knew, or should have known?
“Certainly, it’s not nothing at all to pile people into a freight car and then be indifferent to their ultimate fate,” Kiejman said. “But were they guilty of putting people in a harmful situation, or were they guilty of complicity in murder? It’s very difficult to be sure. And if the judges of 1949 didn’t want to ask that question, can we in 1991 ask it now?
“It is certain in the case of Bousquet that there were bundles of documents on the issue of his involvement in the deportation of Jews and particularly of Jewish children. The scandal is there, in the fact that nobody in 1949 gave these documents any importance.” But democracy, Kiejman said, “has to begin by respecting its own rules. You can’t judge the same man forty years later in order to remedy the mistake of not having accused him of what he should have been accused of in the first place.”
Kiejman recalled his own experience during the war when he and his mother took refuge in the town of Berri, about one hundred miles south of Paris. A local policeman in their small village of about five hundred people denounced his mother because the word Jew did not appear on her identity card. Kiejman’s mother went before the local tribunal and claimed, falsely, that she was not a Jew. The presiding judge, perhaps out of mercy, perhaps because he genuinely believed her, dismissed the case. A year later, it turned out, the policeman who denounced her died fighting in the Resistance.
The episode shows, Kiejman said, that it is very difficult to judge the French of that period. “A simple policeman of course knew a lot less about the significance of what he did than a general-secretary of the police. But they were all parts of a unique mechanism.”
“It is astonishing,” he continued, “how few collaborators were convicted, but one also has to put oneself in the climate of the period. There had been summary executions [carried out by the Resistance at the end of the war]. Some collaborators were convicted. But it is more difficult to judge administrative acts than direct criminal acts.” In April, when the Paris chambre d’accusation held that Touvier, who admitted selecting hostages for execution, could not be put on trial, Kiejman said he was “baffled” and “very upset” (stupefait and bouleversé).
In his recent book, The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France since 1944,2 the historian Henry Rousso, in discussing the changing perspectives toward Vichy, writes that the curiosity of young people about the war and the natural tendency of the young to make harsh judgments of their elders are among the factors that have stirred interest in Vichy and have overcome the longstanding tendency to willed forgetfulness about the period. As Eric Conan pointed out, Le Monde devoted only five lines to Bousquet’s conviction in 1949, by contrast with the thousands of words it has published about Bousquet in recent months. Any visitor to Paris bookshops these days will be impressed by the number of recent works that judge Vichy more harshly than it was judged just after the war. In the recent Une si douce occupation (A Very Sweet Occupation), Gilbert Joseph argues that, contrary to legend, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre were never involved in the Resistance and did not live the engagés lives on which their later reputations were based.
Conan’s recent book Sans oublier les enfants (Lest the Children Be Forgotten) gives a revealing account of two of the transit camps run by the French police in Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande, in unoccupied territory. Conan went to both towns for L’Express to interview local people old enough to tell him what they knew of the camps nearby. They were at first reluctant but when their memories of the harsh treatment of Jews were published in his article, other witnesses came forth with reams of additional reminiscences. Conan then enlarged his study to include the new testimony and to incorporate an investigation of the files in the National Archives. His book reconstructs the life in and around the camps day by day—the arrival of Jews, what happened to them while they were there, and their departure in the convoys destined for the East. Conan’s book is a powerful indictment of Vichy, in which persecution of Jews had become a “part of administrative routine.”
Still the tricky thing about such revived memories is that they can be interpreted in conflicting ways, as with François Mitterrand’s article for the Pétainist journal. If the current president of France, who has probably appointed more Jews to positions of high responsibility than all of his predecessors in the Elysée combined, went through a period of moral confusion until the end of 1942, what of his colleagues who went on working for Vichy two years longer? France was in a state of collective shock after the rapid German conquest. Vichy’s senior leaders wanted to preserve at least some shreds of French sovereignty, a reflex that now seems both pathetic and misguided but did not seem so to many French citizens, including Mitterrand, at the time. And if there had been no Nazi invasion, no demands by Adolf Eichmann for a French contribution to the Final Solution, there would have been no convoys of Jews to the East at all.
Such considerations have led more than a few French intellectuals to doubt that there can be an entirely satisfactory outcome of Bousquet’s case, and I came to share their view. If, as Kiejman believes, a trial and, presumably, a fresh conviction of Bousquet would be surrounded by ambiguity and confusion, the result could be an empty act of vengeance. But if a trial should take place, at least some of the outrages of the earlier trial could be redressed. For example, Bousquet told the court in 1949 that he made continual and often successful efforts to sabotage the German plans to round up the Jews. He claimed that on July 15, 1942, he was able to delay a German order issued three days earlier, “to arrest all of the French Jews in the occupied zone,” and that five convoys of Jews, one each from Bordeaux, Angers, Rouen, Châlons, and Orléans, did not leave because of his efforts. “As a result, messieurs,” Bousquet calmly told the court, “my first involvement in this matter was to save the totality of the French Jews in the occupied zone.”
But exactly three months later, on October 15, Bousquet sent his telegram to the chief of police of Paris asking him to “take all useful measures” for the arrest of stateless Jews in Paris. Bousquet said nothing about this during his testimony; and he did not even mention the extensive roundups that took place during the next two days. If he were asked about his telegram of October 15, which seems to be incontrovertible evidence of his guilt after fifty years, would he admit what he had done? He would most likely say that the telegram was merely a piece of paper, a gesture of fidelity to the Germans that permitted him to carry out his real mission, namely saving as many Jews as possible under impossible circumstances. At least the hollowness of such an argument would be exposed.
However Bousquet would answer such a question now, in 1949 he was never asked. Indeed, when he gave the court his self-serving account of how he tried to help Jews, the presiding judge asked the government prosecutor, a certain Frette-Demicourt, if he had any further questions to ask. “No questions, your honor,” the prosecutor answered.
June 25, 1992