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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 1949, he was automatically convicted as a Vichy official and sentenced to five years of Indignité nationale, 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.
In 1989, after years of increasing accusations about his activities during the war, 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 and killed in eastern Europe Nazi extermination camps. Bousquet was assassinated in 1993 by Christian Didier shortly before his trial was to begin.
In March 1930, he and a friend (who died during the episode) 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, 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).
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. On 6 May or 7 May 1942, Bousquet sought and obtained consent from the SS to transfer another 5000 Jews from Drancy to the concentration camps to the east.
Higher SS and Police Leader 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 foreign and stateless 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 Catholic bishops and cardinals protested; Bousquet threatened to cancel tax privileges for Catholic schools.
Under the pretext of not separating families, Prime Minister 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. Nonetheless, some scholarly sources insist that the Vichy government was unaware of the purpose of the deportation, and believed that the Jews were being taken to provide a labour force in the east.
In January 1943, Bousquet aided Carl Oberg in the organization and execution of a massive raid in Marseille, known as the Round up of Marseille. 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, Oberg, in charge of the German Police in France, came from Paris to supervise. He gave Bousquet orders directly received from Heinrich Himmler. It is a notable case of the French police's willing collaboration with the Nazis.
In April 1943, Bousquet met with Himmler, who 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 JardinCharles Rochat. Bousquet was controversial and became resented by his fellow collaborationists and competitors for power, such as Joseph Barthélémy, minister of Justice.and
On 2 December 1943, men of the Milice, the French collaborationist paramilitary organisation, assassinated Maurice Sarraut. 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, head of the Milice.
Put in the reserve of the civil corps, Bousquet was under surveillance for nearly two weeks in a villa in Neuilly-sur-Seine. 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 , 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 Laval before the execution.
In 1949 René Bousquet was the last Frenchman to be tried by the Haute Cour de Justice created on 18 November 1944. 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 on 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.
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 in the presidential contest 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, 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, Mitterrand distanced himself from Bousquet, when opposition groups accused Bousquet of crimes against humanity during World War II. Mitterrand said he had ended this relationship after Bousquet, but only after the latter was charged with crimes against humanity for organising mass deportations of Jews.
The parquet général de Paris closed Bousquet's case by sending it to a court which no longer existed. This stirred outrage.
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 crimes against humanity, for the deportation of 194 children from six departments of the south of France. After eight years of investigation and numerous delay tactics, Bousquet was indicted by the national government in 1991. By 1995, only four senior French Vichy officials had been indicted for war crimes, and as of that time, 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 scheduled to open, Bousquet was shot dead at his apartment at 34 Avenue Raphaël in Paris by the 51-year-old Christian Didier who, accused of murder, pleaded not guilty, as he claimed the killing was justified by Bousquet's wartime crimes. With a history of pursuing former Vichy officials, Didier held a press conference to announce his killing of a "monster". He was defended by Thierry Lévy and Arnaud Montebourg. Didier was ruled sane although the court heard testimony about his mental problems; he was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison. Had the trial against Bousquet proceeded, it would have been the first against a French citizen for crimes against humanity, in fact "it would have been the trial of the Vichy regime", according to The Independent.