France Puts its History on Trial

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PARIS: France puts its war-time history in the dock Wednesday, as 87-year-old Maurice Papon is tried for the deportation of Jews to the Nazi death camps. TIME Paris Bureau Chief Tom Sancton believes the trial will finally junk Franceís post-war revisionism: ďDe Gaulle created the myth that the French were a nation of resisters and that only a handful of individuals had collaborated with the Germans. In fact, only a small minority of the French had been active in the resistance, but the myth was part of De Gaulleís formula for national cohesion after the war.Ē

Sancton points out that Jacque Chiracís apology to French Jews in 1995 was the first time a French president had accepted that France bore responsibility for the war-time fate of its Jews. This has been echoed by recent mea culpas from the French Catholic Church and police union. Paponís trial will focus not only on his actions, but on the entire context of the collaborationist Vichy government in which he was a junior official. Not surprisingly, the defendant claims he is taking a fall for a nationís collective guilt.