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, the oldest of the five boys. He was an altar boy and spent one year in a seminary, 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 and died when Touvier was an adolescent. Touvier's father, François, was a tax collector in Chambéry, 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 and both father and son joined the Vichy veterans' group when it was founded in 1941.
Touvier returned in 1940 to Chambéry, which was then occupied by the Kingdom of Italy. His life took a new course with the establishment of the Milice. Touvier had become known for chasing girls and for involvement in the black market. Disgusted, his devoutly Catholic father persuaded him to join the Milice. Francois Touvier reportedly hoped that a little military discipline would, "make a man out of," his son.
After the liberation of France by the Allied forces, Touvier went into hiding and escaped the summary execution dealt out to many suspected collaborators. On September 10, 1946, he was sentenced to death in absentia for treason and collusion with the National Socialists. 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, requesting for the lifting of the life-time ban on leaving the country and the confiscation of goods linked to his death penalty. In 1971, French President Georges Pompidou granted him the pardon. Pompidou's pardon caused a public outcry that escalated when it was revealed that most of the property Touvier claimed as his own had allegedly been property seized from deported Jews.
On July 3, 1973, a complaint against Touvier was filed in the Lyon Court by Georges Glaeser, charging him with crimes against humanity. There was no statute of limitations against these charges. Glaeser explicitly 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 of Philippe Henriot, the Vichy Government's Secretary of State for Information and Propaganda, the previous evening. 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 stated 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, further allegations appeared in print, stating that he 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 conjunction with the charges attached to the massacre at Rillieux-la-Pape, Touvier was also alleged to have played an important part in the execution of Victor Basch, a prominent human rights leader and his wife. Touvier was further accused of being involved in several deportations of other Jews. During the two years following Touvier's arrest, 20 additional allegations were made by the French media.
Paul Touvier was granted provisional release in July 1991, but his trial for complicity in crimes against humanity only began on 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 advisor. On April 20, a nine-person jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. An appeal, in 1995, was rejected by the Court.
On July 17, 1996, Paul Touvier died 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
Irish-Canadian novelist Brian Moore's 1995 book The Statement is loosely based on Touvier's life story. It was later adapted into a 2003 film, also titled The Statement, directed by Norman Jewison. Michael Caine appeared as Pierre Brossard, a character inspired by Touvier.
For several years, 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, taking his wife's maiden name.
- Ted Morgan, The New York Times: 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