PARIS — Paul Touvier, the only Frenchman convicted of World War II crimes against humanity, has died after serving two years in prison for the reprisal executions of seven Jews. He was 81.
Touvier, who ordered the 1944 executions to avenge the assassination of the Vichy propaganda chief, died Wednesday in a prison hospital south of Paris, court officials said. He had prostate cancer.
"Justice was done," said Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld.
Touvier spent much of his life on the run, sheltered by elements in the Roman Catholic Church. Twice convicted in absentia for treason, he was pardoned by President Georges Pompidou in 1971 at the behest of leading Catholic officials.
French Resistance groups and Jewish survivors objected and came forward with evidence to bring new charges. Touvier went back into hiding.
He remained a fugitive, moving from convent to monastery under assumed names with his wife and two children, living off handouts from individuals and church groups until he was arrested at a Catholic priory in Nice in 1989.
Prosecution lawyers portrayed Touvier during his five-week Versailles trial as seething with revenge on the eve of the execution June 29, 1944, in Rillieux-la-Pape, outside Lyon.
Touvier was head of the Lyon-area militia for the Vichy regime, which collaborated with the Nazi occupation of France. He ordered the dawn executions by firing squad in reprisal for the murder of Vichy propaganda chief Philippe Henriot by the French Resistance.
Touvier claimed that he was acting under German orders that 100 Jews be killed and said that he actually saved many by sacrificing seven. That was never proven.
"Right to the end, I tried to find another solution," Touvier testified at his 1994 trial. "We tried to reduce the number of victims from 30. I said we would do seven at a time. We could not avoid the catastrophe. But I did, even so, save 23 human lives."
The seven refugees, ages 23 to 64, were lined up against the wall of a cemetery and shot one by one, first in the back, then in the head.
"I never forgot this tragedy," Touvier testified. "I said Mass."
Born April 3, 1915, and raised in a devout Catholic family headed by a tax collector, Touvier rose from clerk to a key aide for Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie, the "Butcher of Lyon," tracking Jews and Resistance fighters.
Barbie, who was German, was the only other man to stand trial in France for crimes against humanity committed during World War II. He was convicted in 1987.
Some 75,000 Jews, including 12,000 children, were deported from France to Nazi death camps during the war. Only 2,500 returned.
Touvier's private journals, used as evidence that he was anti-Semitic and that the killings were motivated by racial hatred, contained numerous references to Auschwitz and vicious remarks about well-known Jewish television and radio journalists.
Touvier is survived by his wife Monique and his children Chantal and Pierre.