Papon, Mauric, born 03-09-1910, in Gretz-Armainvilliers, Seine-et-Marne, France, was a French civil servant who led the police in major prefectures from the 1930s to the 1960s, before he became a Gaullist politician. When he was secretary general for the police in Bordeaux during World War II, he participated in the deportation of more than 1600 Jews. He is also known for his activities in the Algerian War (1954–1962), during which he tortured insurgent prisoners as prefect of the Constantinois department, and ordered, as prefect of the Paris police, the severe repression of a pro-National Liberation Front (FLN) demonstration against a curfew that he had “advised.”
In 1961, Maurice Papon was personally awarded the Legion of Honour by French President Charles de Gaulle, whose government had been struggling with FLN terrorism. Papon was also in charge of the Paris police during the February 1962 massacre at the Charonne metro station, which took place during an anti-Organisation armée secrète (OAS) demonstration that had been organised by the French Communist Party (PCF). Forced to resign in 1967 after the suspicious forced disappearance of the Moroccan Marxist Mehdi Ben Barka, he was supported by de Gaulle in being named as president of Sud Aviation company, which co-created the Concorde plane.
After May 1968, Papon was elected as a member the French National Assembly and served several terms. From 1978 to 1981, he served in the cabinet of Prime Minister Raymond Barre under President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Between the two rounds of the May 1981 presidential election, where Giscard d’Estaing was running for a second term, details about Papon’s past were leaked in Le Canard enchaîné newspaper. Documents signed by Papon were made public that showed his responsibility in the deportation of 1,690 Bordeaux Jews to Drancy internment camp from 1942–44. After a long investigation and protracted legal wranglings, he was eventually tried.
In 1998, Papon was convicted of crimes against humanity. He was released from prison early, in 2002, age 92, for ill health.
Papon born the son of a solicitor who became an industrialist. In 1919, when Papon was nine years old, his father was elected mayor in the commune and held that office until 1937. His father was also local representative (conseiller général) of Tournan-en-Brie and president of the canton’s council in 1937.
Papon studied at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, in Paris. Fellow students at the elite school were Georges Pompidou , later President of France, and René Brouillet, who would join Charles de Gaulle’s cabinet after the war. Papon entered Sciences-Po, the specialty university for future civil servants and politicians, and he studied law, psychology and sociology.
After entering public service at the age of 20, Papon was quickly promoted. During the second Cartel des gauches, in February 1931, he worked in the cabinet of the Minister of Air, Jean-Louis Dumesnil. He was named in the Ministry of Interior in July 1935 before he became chief of staff of the deputy director of departmental and communal affairs, in January 1936, under Maurice Sabatier.
In June 1936, during the Popular Front government, he was attached to the cabinet of Radical-Socialist François de Tessan, the vice-state secretary to the presidency of the Council as well as a friend of his father. He became a member of the Ligue d’action universitaire républicaine et socialiste, a Radical-Socialist youth group; Pierre Mendès France was also a member. In Camille Chautemps’s government, François de Tessan was appointed as sub-state secretary to Foreign Affairs and selected Papon as his parliamentary attaché in March 1938.
Mobilised on 26-08-1939 in the 2nd Colonial Infantry Regiment, Papon was sent to Tripoli, then under Italian control. He was assigned to direct the French secret services in Ras-el-Aïn, in Lebanon. He was then assigned to Syria. After his return in November 1940, following the fall of France, Papon agreed to serve the Vichy government. His mentors, Jean-Louis Dumesnil and Maurice Sabatier, voted on 10-07-1940 to grant all power to Philippe Pétain.
Papon was appointed as the vice-chief of bureau to the central administration of the Ministry of Interior, before he was named, in February 1941, as vice-prefect, 1st class. The next month, he became Maurice Sabatier’s general secretary and general secretary of the administration for the Interior Minister. While Papon chose Vichy, 94 civil servants were revoked at the end of the spring of 1941, 104 pensioned off and 79 moves. Now, as Le Monde put it in 2002, “neutrality is no longer an option.”
In May 1942, his chief, Sabatier, was named prefect of Aquitaine by Pierre Laval, the head of the Vichy government. Papon was appointed as general secretary of the prefecture of Gironde in charge of Jewish Affairs.
Papon later claimed he had Gaullist tendencies during the war. A confidential report from the Nazis at the time shows that in April 1943, he identified as a “collaborationist” during “personal or official conversations.” Another document from July 1943 called him a “good negotiator.”
During World War II, Papon served as a senior police official in the Vichy régime. He was the second official in the Bordeaux region (the secretary-general of the prefecture of Gironde) and the supervisor of its Service for Jewish Questions. With authority over Jewish affairs, Papon regularly collaborated with Nazi Germany’s SS Corps, which was responsible for the extermination of Jews. Under his command, about 1,560 Jews were deported. Most were sent directly to the camp of Mérignac and then they were transported to Drancy internment camp, near Paris, and finally to Auschwitz or other concentration camps for extermination.
From July 1942 to August 1944, 12 trains left Bordeaux for Drancy; about 1,600 Jews, including 130 children under 13, were deported; few survived. Papon also implemented the anti-Semitic laws voted by the Vichy government. By July 1942, he had “dejudaised” 204 companies, sold 64 land properties owned by Jewish people and was in the process of “dejudaising” 493 other businesses.
Some résistants questioned his activities, but Papon avoided being judged by the Comité départemental de libération (CDL) of Bordeaux for his role during Vichy, as he was protected by Gaston Cusin. He presented a certificate attesting that he had taken part in the Resistance although its authenticity was later rejected.
Death and burial ground of Papon, Maurice.
Maurice Papon died 17-02-2007, aged 96, in Pontault-Combault, Seine-et-Marne, France and is buried at Gretz-Armainvilliers Cemetery, in Gretz-Armainvilliers, Departement de Seine-et-Marne, Île-de-France, France.