René Bousquet (11 May 1909 – 8 June 1993) was a high-ranking French political appointee who served as secretary general to the Vichy regime police from May 1942 to 31 December 1943. For personal heroism, he had become a protégé of prominent officials before the war and rose rapidly in the government.
In the postwar years, he was automatically convicted as a Vichy official and sentenced to five years, but his sentence was reduced due to beliefs that he also aided the Resistance and attempted to preserve some autonomy for French police during the Nazi Occupation. Excluded from the government, he went into business. After receiving amnesty in 1959, Bousquet became active again in politics, supporting left-wing politicians through the 1970s, and becoming a regular visitor of François Mitterrand after his election as president in the 1980s.
After years of increasing accusations about his activities during the war, in 1989 Bousquet was accused by three groups of crimes against humanity. He was ultimately indicted by the French Ministry of Justice in 1991 for his decisions during the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup in 1942, which led to Jewish children being deported to extermination camps and death in eastern Europe. Bousquet was assassinated in 1993 by Christian Didier shortly before his trial was to begin.
Early life and education
In March 1930, he and a friend became national heroes after they personally saved dozens of people from drowning during floods in the southwest of France. He was awarded the Legion of Honour and the Médaille d'or des belles actions ("Golden medal for fine deeds"). Maurice Sarraut, the radical-socialist senator and CEO of La Dépêche du Midi, and Albert Sarraut, deputy, president of the Council and minister, took on Bousquet as their protégé. Bousquet was detached to the Presidency of the Council to head the technical service in charge of the reconstruction of the flooded Southern regions. He had a rapid rise within the government, gaining increasingly responsible appointments.
At the age of 22, he became second of the cabinet of Pierre Cathala (fr), then minister of the Interior. In 1933, Bousquet was promoted to sous-préfet, and in 1935, he was appointed as general director of the national cabinet of the Minister for Agriculture. The next year, Bousquet was given responsibility for the central files of the National Security.
In April 1938, Albert Sarraut, then Minister of the Interior, named him sous-préfet for Vitry-le-François (Marne). In 1939, he became general secretary of the préfecture for Châlons-sur-Marne (now Châlons-en-Champagne).
Second World War
In 1940 Bousquet was appointed as préfet after the Armistice, in which France surrendered to Germany and agreed to occupation.
In September 1941, he was appointed as the youngest regional préfet. Because of his radical-socialist background, he was subject to the hatred of Je suis partout. He helped some war prisoners to escape, and worked to lighten the economic toll of the Nazi occupation on the Marne department.
In April 1942, as the Schutzstaffel (SS) was taking over security duties in the Occupied Zone, Pierre Laval appointed Bousquet general secretary to Police. Bousquet was given permanent credentials to sign on behalf of the head of State.
SS General Carl Oberg was in charge of the German Police in France. Bousquet worked with him and obtained some autonomy for the French police by promising to collaborate with the Germans. Bousquet concentrated all police services under his personal authority, suppressing the branch led by Darquier de Pellepoix, general commissary of Jewish affairs.
Bousquet negotiated the "Oberg-Bousquet" deal, which was presented to all regional préfets on 8 August 1942. It formally recognised the autonomy of the French police and Gendarmerie and said that the French police would not be compelled to provide hostages, nor to hand their prisoners over to German services. But three days later, the Germans demanded the French provide 70 hostages in retaliation for the murder of eight Germans.
On 2 July 1942, Bousquet and Oberg prepared the arrests known as the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup (Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv), which rounded up French and foreign Jews for deportation. Bousquet personally canceled orders protecting some categories of people from arrests, notably children under 18 and parents with children under 5. After the arrests, some bishops and cardinals protested; Bousquet threatened to cancel tax privileges for Catholic schools.
Under the pretext of not separating families, the premier Pierre Laval ordered that Jewish children under 16 be included in deportation convoys, thus surpassing the requirements of the Nazis. Bousquet obliged and expanded the deportation to parents and their children under 2 years. In the event, children were separated from their parents and deported in different groups.
In January 1943, Bousquet aided Oberg in the organization and execution of a massive raid in Marseilles, known as the Battle of Marseilles. The French police assisted the German police in expelling 30,000 people from the Old Port. They subsequently destroyed the neighborhood, which the German police considered a "terrorist nest" because of its many winding, small streets. Bousquet offered his services for this operation. As the French police controlled the documentation of identity for 40,000 people. With their review assistance, the operation sent 2,000 Jewish Marseillais to the extermination camps.
For this occasion, SS Oberg, in charge of the German Police in France, came from Paris to supervise. He gave Bousquet orders directly received from Himmler. It is a notable case of the French police's willing collaboration with the Nazis.
In April 1943, Bousquet met with Heinrich Himmler. Himmler declared himself "impressed by Bousquet's personality", mentioning him as a "precious collaborator in the framework of police collaboration".
At the time, Bousquet was also councillor to Pierre Laval, along with Jean Jardin (fr) and Charles Rochat. Bousquet was controversial and became resented by his fellow collaborationists and competitors for power, such as Joseph Barthélémy, minister of Justice.
On 2 December 1943, men of the Milice, the French Secret Police, assassinated Maurice Sarraut (fr). Bousquet was set to arrest the attackers, and the Milice asked Berlin to get Bousquet removed. After ordering releases and destroying his archives, Bousquet resigned on 31 December 1943. He was replaced by Joseph Darnand, leader of the Milice.
Put in the reserve of the civil corps, Bousquet was under surveillance for nearly two weeks in a villa in Neuilly. He drove to Germany in a car lent by Carl Oberg.
During early 1944, the collaborationist press, such as Je suis partout, attacked Bousquet, accusing him of having served in the Vichy administration only to favour the Resistance. His cabinet director, Jean-Paul Martin (fr), was reported to have also helped some Resistance networks.
Bousquet was in Bavaria at the time of the German surrender. He returned to France with the status of a "deported person". He met with Laval to help him prepare for his trial. Convicted of collaboration, Laval was sentenced to death. Bousquet spent part of the night with him before Laval's execution.
In 1949 René Bousquet was the last Frenchman to be tried by the Haute Cour. He was acquitted of the charge of "compromising the interests of the National defence", but was automatically declared guilty of indignité nationale for his involvement in the government of Vichy. He was given the minimal sentence of five years of dégradation nationale, a measure immediately lifted for "having actively and sustainably participated in the Resistance against the occupier".
As with other Vichy officials, Bousquet was excluded from the French public service. He made a career at the Banque de l'Indochine and in newspapers. He met with François Mitterrand through Jean-Paul Martin, Bousquet's former collaborator in Vichy. At the time, Martin was minister of over-sea territories and director of Mitterrand's cabinet.
Renewal of political career
In the legislative elections of 1958, Bousquet ran as a candidate for the 3rd circonscription of the Marne. He was supported by the Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance; his second was Hector Bouilly, a radical-socialist general councillor. Bousquet earned less than 10% of the votes.
After Jean Baylet's death in 1959, Bousquet was appointed to the Council of administration of the newspaper La Dépêche du Midi. He supported the candidacy of Mitterrand in 1965, and observed an anti-Gaullist editorial line. After Bousquet quit in 1971, the tone of the newspaper softened.
In 1974, Bousquet supported and helped finance Mitterrand against Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. Bousquet was acquainted with numerous other political and cultural figures, such as Antoine Pinay, Bernard Cornut-Gentille, Jacques Chaban-Delmas, the composer Edgar Faure and Maurice Faure. He was part of the administration council of UTA.
After Mitterrand's election in the presidential election in 1981, Bousquet occasionally met him at the Élysée to "talk about politics". In 1986, he and Mitterrand stopped seeing each other, as opposition groups accused Bousquet of crimes against humanity during World War II.
The parquet général de Paris closed Bousquet's case by sending it to a court which no longer existed. This stirred outrage; lawyers for the International Federation of Human Rights declared that there was a "political decision at the highest levels to prevent the Bousquet affair from developing".
Crimes against Humanity
In 1989, Serge Klarsfeld and his Association des fils et filles des déportés juifs de France (Sons and daughters of Jewish Deportees from France), the National Federation of deportees and internees, Resistants and Patriots and the Ligue des droits de l'homme filed a complaint against Bousquet for crime against humanity, for the deportation of 194 young children from Paris. In 1991, Bousquet was indicted by the national government. By 1995, only four senior French Vichy officials had been indicted for war crimes, and by 1995, only Paul Touvier had stood trial. The former Vichy official Maurice Papon was convicted of war crimes in 1998.
On 8 June 1993, a few weeks before his trial was to begin, Bousquet was shot dead at his apartment at 34 Avenue Raphaël in Paris by the 51-year-old Christian Didier, who pled not guilty, as he claimed the execution was justified by Bousquet's wartime crimes. With a history of pursuing former Vichy officials, Didier held a press conference to announce his murder of a "monster". He was defended by Thierry Lévy (fr) and Arnaud Montebourg. Didier was ruled sane although the court heard testimony about his mental problems; he was convicted of the slaying and sentenced to ten years in prison.
- Battle of Marseilles (22–24 January 1943)
- Maurice Rajsfus, La Police de Vichy. Les Forces de l'ordre françaises au service de la Gestapo, 1940/1944, Le Cherche Midi éditeur, 1995. Chapter XIV, "La Bataille de Marseille", pp. 209-217 (French)
- "Mr Bousquet, ex-general secretary for the Police, is at Fresnes. It had to be so. Of course, it had to be so. But it should have began by being so. But... Mr Bousquet (from the Sarraut gang) was the protégé of hard-line republicans and in spite of being the main responsible for the Maquis, he resigned his functions under congratulations of the outmost indecency" — « M. Bousquet, qui fut secrétaire général pour la Police est à Fresnes. Cela devait finir ainsi. Bien sûr, cela devait finir ainsi. Mais cela eût dû commencer ainsi. Seulement voilà... M. Bousquet (du gang Sarraut) était le protégé des républicains musclés et bien qu'il fût le principal responsable du maquis, il abandonna ses fonctions avec des félicitations de la plus parfaite indécence. », Je suis partout, 21 April 1944
- Jean-Paul Martin had rendered important services to the French Resistance, notably saving François Mitterrand from arrest by the Gestapo at the end of 1943. Unlike Jean Leguay and René Bousquet, Jean-Paul Martin was never accused by French Justice nor by families of deported people. (Franz-Olivier Giesbert, François Mitterrand, une vie, éd. du Seuil, « Points », pp. 160-161)
- Mitterrand later said that Bousquet was financing all the most prominent left-wing politicians from the 1950s to the 1970s, including Pierre Mendès France
- MARY DEJEVSKY, "Killer's tale stirs ghosts of Vichy", The Independent (UK), 7 November 1995, 28 May 2012
- Gary Borg, "Writer Sentenced In Vichy Slaying", Chicago Tribune, 14 November 1995, accessed 28 May 2012
- Mark Celinscak, "René Bousquet" in Atrocities, Massacres, and War Crimes: An Encyclopedia. Edited by A. Mikaberidze (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2013), pp. 72-73.
- Pascale Froment, René Bousquet, Fayard, 2001
- Simon Kitson, 'The Marseille Police in their context from Popular Front to Liberation', D Phil thesis, University of Sussex, 1995
- Max Lagarrigue, 99 questions sur...les Français pendant l'Occupation, Montpellier, CNDP, 2006. see also Irénée Bonnafous and Revue Arkheia
- (French) La vraie vie de René Bousquet (L'Express du 28 September 1990)
- (French) Une biographie détaillée
- (French) PDF Une histoire détaillée de La Dépêche et de René Bousquet écrite par Jean Bonhomme, ancien vice-président de l'Assemblée Nationale
- Dissertation by Simon Kitson, PDF