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Thursday, April 2, 1998 Published at 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK


France looks back on Papon trial
image: [ Maurice Papon at a restaurant in Bordeaux before Thursday's verdict ]
Maurice Papon at a restaurant in Bordeaux before Thursday's verdict

A French court has sentenced 87-year-old Maurice Papon to 10 years in jail for ordering the deportation of 1,600 Jews to Nazi Germany. The BBC's Stephen Jessel looks at how public opinion in France has viewed the trial:

People in Bordeaux express their opinion about this verdict - in French and English (1' 24")
When the trial began almost six months ago, there were hopes that it would be more than the calling to account of one elderly man; that it would a unique and final opportunity to dissect the workings of the French administration in its collaboration with the German occupiers in the early 1940s, as well as both educating and alerting the people of France, most of whom were not even born at the time.

Those hopes have not been fully realised.

What had appeared black or white before the trial became steadily greyer. The hearings became ensnared in technical details.

The time taken by lawyers for the civil plaintiffs and postponements caused by the defendant's ill health led the hearing to stretch on interminably. Recently, two newspapers published opinion polls on the trial, and their contradictory findings may reflect public confusion.

In the first, asked whether they thought the trial should have taken place, well over half said yes; a third said no. In the second, asked whether the trial had been useful, slightly over half thought not.

Questioned as to whether it had shed light on Papon's role, a substantial majority thought it had not, while a similar majority thought they now knew more about France under the German occupation. The proceedings were fully covered in many newspapers and on radio and television.

Those who wanted to keep abreast had every chance to do so. Historians may find in the 376 hours of the trial, spead over 94 days, all of them filmed, answers to their questions.

The public seems less sure.

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