Paul Touvier (April 3, 1915 - July 17, 1996) was a French Nazi collaborator during World War II in Occupied France. In 1994, he was the first Frenchman to be convicted of crimes against humanity for his actions in Vichy France.
Paul Touvier was born in Saint-Vincent-sur-Jabron, Alpes de Haute-Provence, in southeastern France. His family was devoutly Roman Catholic, lower-middle-class and extremely conservative. He was one of 11 children, and the oldest of the five boys. Serving as an altar boy when young, he attended a seminary for a year, intending to become a priest.
Touvier's mother, Eugenie, was an orphan who was raised by nuns. As an adult, she was very religious and went to Mass every day. She died when Touvier was an adolescent. His father, François Touvier, was a tax collector in Chambéry, after having retired after 19 years as a career soldier. Touvier's father was very conservative, an admirer of the monarchist and anti-parliamentarist Charles Maurras and L'Action Française.
Paul Touvier graduated from the Institute St. Francis de Sales in Chambéry at the age of 16. When he turned 21, his father got him a job as a clerk at the local railroad station, where he continued to work as World War II began. Widowed on the eve of the war, he continued to reside in Chambéry. Touvier was mobilized for the war effort in 1939. After the Vichy government was created, Touvier and his family were firm supporters of Maréchal Petain. They both joined the Vichy veterans' group when it was founded in 1941.
Joining the French Army's 8th Infantry Division, Touvier fought the German Wehrmacht until, following the bombing of Chateau-Thierry, he deserted. Touvier returned in 1940 to Chambéry, which was then occupied by the Kingdom of Italy. His life took a new course after the Milice was established.
Touvier had become known for chasing girls and for trading in the black market. Disgusted, his devoutly Catholic father persuaded him to join the Milice, hoping that a little military discipline would "make a man out of" his son.
Touvier was eventually appointed head of the intelligence department in the Chambéry Milice under the direction of the German SS official, Klaus Barbie. In January 1944 he became second regional head.
After the liberation of France by the Allied forces, Touvier went into hiding; he escaped the summary execution suffered by many suspected collaborators. On September 10, 1946, the government sentenced him to death in absentia for treason and collusion with the Nazis. In 1947, he was arrested for armed robbery in Paris, but escaped.
By 1966, implementation of his death sentence was barred based on a 20-year statute of limitations. Following this, attorneys for Touvier filed an application for a pardon. They requested that the lifetime ban on leaving the country and the confiscation of goods linked to the death penalty be lifted. In 1971, French President Georges Pompidou granted Touvier the pardon.
Pompidou's pardon caused a public outcry. This increased when it was revealed that most of the property Touvier claimed as his own had allegedly been seized from deported Jews.
On July 3, 1973, Georges Glaeser filed a complaint against Touvier in the Lyon Court, charging him with crimes against humanity. There was no statute of limitations for such charges. Glaeser accused Touvier of ordering the execution of seven Jewish hostages at Rillieux-la-Pape near Lyon, on 29 June 1944. This was in retaliation for the murder the previous evening of Philippe Henriot, the Vichy Government's Secretary of State for Information and Propaganda. After being indicted, Touvier disappeared again. Years of legal maneuvering ensued through his lawyers until a warrant was issued for his arrest on November 27, 1981.
Arrest and trial
On May 24, 1989, Touvier was arrested at the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) Priory in Nice. The SSPX said at the time that Touvier had been allowed to live in the Priory as "an act of charity to a homeless man." After his arrest, newspapers reported that Touvier had been aided for years by the Catholic Church hierarchy in Lyon and later by members of the Traditionalist Catholic movement. He was defended by the monarchist lawyer Jacques Tremollet de Villers, who later became president of the Traditionalist Catholic organization, La Cité Catholique.
In addition to the charges for the murders at Rillieux-la-Pape, Touvier was alleged to have played an important part in the execution of Victor Basch, a prominent human rights leader, and his wife. He was also accused of having directed the deportations of other Jews. During the two years following Touvier's arrest, French media reported 20 additional allegations.
Paul Touvier was granted provisional release in July 1991. His trial for complicity in crimes against humanity did not begin until March 17, 1994. He expressed remorse for his actions, saying that he thought of the seven Jewish victims of Rillieux-la-Pape every day. A Traditionalist Catholic priest of the Society of Saint Pius X sat beside him at the defense table, acting as his spiritual adviser. On April 20, a nine-person jury found him guilty and Touvier was sentenced to life imprisonment. An appeal was rejected in 1995 by the Court.
On July 17, 1996, Paul Touvier died at age 81 of prostate cancer in Fresnes prison, near Paris. A Tridentine Requiem Mass was offered for the repose of his soul by Father Philippe Laguérie at St Nicolas du Chardonnet, the Society of St. Pius X chapel, in Paris.
In popular culture
The Irish-Canadian novelist Brian Moore's 1995 novel, The Statement, is loosely based on Touvier's life. It was adapted as a film, also titled The Statement (2003), directed by Norman Jewison. Michael Caine appeared as Pierre Brossard, a character inspired by Touvier.
For several years, the Belgian singer Jacques Brel worked with Touvier. Touvier met Brel by reportedly approaching him in a restaurant and saying, "I am Paul Touvier, a condemned man." Brel's wife, however, said that they knew him only as "Paul Berthet", an alias he sometimes used, based on his wife's maiden name.
- Ted Morgan, "L'Affaire Touvier: Opening Old Wounds", The New York Times (October 1, 1989) Retrieved February 12, 2011
- Biography of Paul Touvier, Centre d'Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation, Lyon, France. Retrieved February 13, 2011 (French)
- Angelus Online
- Jacques Cordy, "Jacques Brel Berné par « Monsier Paul »" Le Soir, Brussels, Belgium. (March 25, 1994). Retrieved February 13, 2011 (French)
- "Love, life and crimes against humanity", On an Overgrown Path, blog post (January 27, 2010). Retrieved February 13, 2011
- Simon Kitson, "Bousquet, Touvier and Papon: Three Vichy personalities" University of Portsmouth French History Interview series
- Resistance and Deportation History Centre