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Testimony Doesn’t Help Papon

January 19, 1998

BORDEAUX, France (AP) _ A French historian who was expected to bolster Maurice Papon’s case took the stand Monday, but barely mentioned the war crime suspect’s name in hours of rambling testimony.

Instead, French historian Michel Berges argued mainly that the World War II period was fraught with uncertainty. He said his 18-year study of Bordeaux during the Nazi occupation was hampered by missing archives and translation problems.

Berges had been expected to provide the Bordeaux court with names of Jews that Papon, a former Cabinet Minister, allegedly saved from deportation to Nazi death camps.

Papon, 87, is the highest-ranking official of the pro-Nazi Vichy regime to stand trial for crimes against humanity. He is charged with signing arrest orders that led to the deportation of 1,690 Jews, including 233 children, from the Gironde region during World War II.

Hundreds of people lined up to attend Monday’s court session because Berges, who helped bring the former Vichy official to trial, was appearing on Papon’s behalf.

The defense was counting on Berges, 45, to bolster Papon’s claim that he tried to sabotage Nazi orders to arrest and deport Jews from the Gironde region, including Bordeaux, and actually intervened to save Jews.

In recent weeks, the prosecution has introduced documents showing Papon’s involvement in preparing convoys of Jews from Bordeaux to Drancy, the transit camp outside Paris and the last stop before Auschwitz.

Berges, however, fell short of showing that the prosecution grossly misinterpreted the documents that he himself dug out of the Bordeaux archives in the 1980s.

``Berges’ testimony was like a souffle that fell in,″ said Michel Zaoui, a lawyer for victims and their families.

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