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Court Upholds Conviction of Vichy Figure

October 22, 1999|From Associated Press

PARIS — Holocaust survivors smiled, shouted "Bravo!" and wept Thursday when France's highest court upheld the conviction of Maurice Papon, the former Vichy official who fled the country rather than face prison for his role in sending Jews to Nazi death camps.

The court ruled that Papon lost his right of appeal by failing to report to prison as required before Thursday's hearing. After the ruling, the court issued an arrest warrant for Papon, who last week left France for Switzerland. His current whereabouts are unknown.

Papon, 89, was convicted in April 1998 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for complicity in crimes against humanity for his role in the deportation of about 1,500 Jews from the city of Bordeaux. Most of the deportees died at Auschwitz.

Papon was free while awaiting his appeal.

He is the highest-ranking official of the Vichy regime to be convicted of crimes against humanity committed during World War II.

"The day he's behind bars, I will finally be able to go to bed early and wake up the next morning rested," said Juliette Benzazon, 69, who lost her immediate family in a roundup of Jews ordered by Papon.

Ruedi Christen, the Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman, confirmed Thursday that Papon was in the western town of Martigny last week.

Papon stayed under a false name at a hotel from Oct. 11 to Oct. 16, a government official said.

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