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No Documents To Prove Papon Claim

January 20, 1998

BORDEAUX, France (AP) _ A historian who was expected to bolster the defense of French war crimes suspect Maurice Papon testified Tuesday he had no new evidence to back up Papon’s claim he sabotaged Nazi orders and saved Jews.

But in his second day of testimony, scholar Michel Berges said he did not think that Papon was the ``grand master of Jewish affairs″ in France when Jews were deported to Nazi death camps during World War II.

``He’s not at the summit of the pyramid,″ Berges said during four hours of testimony.

Berges, 45, discovered wartime documents in 1981 that provided the foundations for the legal action against Papon, the highest-ranking official of the pro-Nazi Vichy regime to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

But Tuesday, Berges said he has gained a ``deepened understanding″ of the documents he found, and now he believes Papon was only following Nazi orders when the Jews were deported.

Papon, 87, a former budget minister in the Vichy regime, is charged with signing the arrest orders that led to the deaths of 1,690 Jews, including 233 children, from Bordeaux. His trial began in October and could continue until March.

Berges’ long-awaited testimony was expected to challenge documents the defense said showed that Papon followed closely the preparation of convoys of Jews shipped to Drancy, the French transit camp outside Paris and last stop before Auschwitz.

The University of Bordeaux professor’s testimony _ packed with facts, names and dates _ marked the first time such detail has been brought to bear in Papon’s favor.

But under questioning from lawyers representing Papon’s alleged victims and their families, Berges said he had no new evidence showing that Papon thwarted Nazi plans and saved Jews.

Before testifying, Berges had indicated he would provide the names of Jews that Papon allegedly saved from deportation. But on the witness stand, he said ``postal sacks full of family archives″ must be examined for him to do so.

He also insisted that some families who sheltered Jewish children declined to be identified.

Papon praised Berges for having the courage to revise his views of the Vichy regime.

``I could hold it against Michel Berges for being here if he hadn’t had the intellectual honesty and moral courage to redress his errors and deepen his knowledge,″ Papon told the court.

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