Related topics

Doctors Check French Prisoner Papon

October 9, 1997

BORDEAUX, France (AP) _ Doctors examined former Cabinet minister Maurice Papon today to determine whether he is healthy enough to remain in prison during his trial for allegedly sending French Jews to Nazi death camps as an official in the collaborationist Vichy regime.

Papon, 87, has requested that he be freed for the trial, expected to last into December. He told a court Wednesday that he lacks the physical or mental stamina to remain jailed. He surrendered to police custody on Tuesday.

Two doctors appointed by the court examined Papon, and their findings were to be presented to the court today, Palais de Justice spokeswoman Christine Chastenet said.

Papon, a former Bordeaux police supervisor, is charged with signing the arrest orders and preparing the convoys that sent 1,690 Jews including 223 children, to Nazi death camps during World War II.

The most senior French official to stand trial for his role in the persecution and deportation of Jews, Papon told a hushed courtroom Wednesday that his fragile condition would make it impossible for him to defend himself while imprisoned.

Elegant in a navy blue blazer and gray slacks, Papon rose from his seat behind bulletproof glass and requested he be freed.

``I have only one voice,″ he said. ``I ask, with skepticism, to have equal weapons so I can defend myself without having to bear the unbearable weight of detention.″

His lawyer, Jean-Marc Varaut, pleaded for his release, saying detention might be fatal. Papon underwent triple-bypass heart surgery last year and continues to take heart medicine.

Varaut said his client was being detained in ``inhumane conditions″ at the Gradignan prison outside Bordeaux.

Lawyers representing the families of several hundred victims, Holocaust survivors, and Jewish groups who have waited 16 years for the trial oppose Papon’s request.

``I can’t stand the idea of Papon going to a five-star hotel every night after the hearings,″ said Therese Stopnicki, who escaped the police roundup that captured her young sisters.

``It’s his way of thumbing his nose at us, of literally going free, after all we’ve gone through to bring him to trial.″

Observers expect the magistrates might place Papon in a hospital under guard, possibly in Bordeaux’s main medical facility, located across the street from the court.

The opening day of the trial Wednesday was a historic moment for France, and the long-awaited hearing should shed light on the pro-Nazi Vichy administration’s treatment of Jews during World War II.

France deported about 76,000 Jews, including 12,000 children, to Nazi death camps; only about 2,500 survived.

After the war, Papon went on to a prominent career in government _ as Paris police chief under then-President Charles De Gaulle and later budget minister under conservative President Valery Giscard d’Estaing. He enjoyed protection at the highest levels even after a newspaper revealed his wartime record in 1981.

In 1994, then-President Francois Mitterrand admitted he had stepped in to delay proceedings against Papon.