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Nazi collaborator Papon wants state medal in grave

PARIS (Reuters) - Convicted French Nazi collaborator Maurice Papon asked to be buried wearing his Legion d’Honneur medal for services to France, his lawyer said on Sunday, causing fresh controversy after his death.

Papon, the only French Nazi official to be convicted for his role in the deportation of Jews during World War Two, died aged 96 on Saturday in a private hospital after a heart operation.

“I will personally ensure that he will be accompanied in his grave by the Order of Commander of the Legion of Honor, which he received from the hands of Charles de Gaulle, for eternity,” lawyer Francis Vuillemin said.

Bernard Accoyer, floor leader of the ruling UMP party in parliament, called the statement “shocking”.

He said he was certain President Jacques Chirac, as grand chancellor of the order, would “make sure that on the one hand the law will be respected and that on the other nothing will sully this award, which is very emblematic for the republic”.

The opposition Socialist Party said it would offend the victims and their families if Papon was buried with the order.

“Such a gesture has no other aim than to offer Maurice Papon a sort of posthumous rehabilitation, or the denial of the serious and shocking facts for which he has been found guilty,” the party said in a statement.

Papon was not allowed to wear the medal after he was convicted in 1998 of complicity in crimes against humanity.

Vuillemin said Papon would be buried this week.

Former Vichy official Maurice Papon, sentenced in 1998 to 10 years imprisonment for helping deport Jews to Nazi death camps, is seen in Bordeaux in this February 2, 1998 file photo. Papon asked to be buried wearing his Legion d'Honneur medal for services to France, his lawyer said on Sunday, causing fresh controversy after his death. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/Files

He said the state had not disavowed Papon, resuming payment of his pension after 2003 and settling half of the amount he was ordered to pay to the families of his victims.

“Papon died a free man,” Vuillemin said.

Papon was a successful politician after the war who became a minister before his past caught up with him.

TRANSPORT OF JEWS

As a senior official in southern France, at the time unoccupied but in thrall to the Nazis, he was found to have approved the transport of more than 1,500 Jews to a transit camp on the way to Auschwitz.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but released in 2002 due to poor health, and since then had lived at home near Paris.

Michel Slitinsky, the first man to start legal action against Papon in 1981, said he regretted that Papon had been able to die in liberty and that other collaborating French officials had evaded justice.

“I wish there had been other Slitinskys to pursue them in other French towns,” he told Reuters.

During the war, some 75,000 French Jews were sent to extermination camps; only 2,500 came back. “I will always remember his responsibility for the families he deported,” said Slitinsky, now 82. He said 225 of the deportees were children.

With the Papon trial, France rediscovered a dark side of its own state apparatus -- but also found that three-quarters of its Jews had been able to escape deportation because they were helped by their fellow citizens.

Since January 18, a number of these have been reburied in the Pantheon in Paris, where the nation’s most illustrious dead are honored.

A memorial plaque there reads: “... despite the weight of hatred and darkness that fell on France during the years of occupation, thousands of lights refused to go out.”

Additional reporting by Claude Canellas and Danielle Rouquie

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