Secret details of how French wartime collaborators hunted down Jews and members of the resistance and handed them to the Nazis are being made public.
More than 200,000 documents that have been kept under lock and key for 75 years under French secrecy laws were yesterday opened up for the first time.
They date from the 1940-1944 regime of Marshal Petain, whose puppet government in the spa town of Vichy helped Nazi Germany deport 76,000 French Jews, many of them children.
The declassified police and ministerial archives are expected to shed new light on the Vichy regime’s enthusiastic collaboration with the Nazis in rounding up so-called enemies of the state. The documents are likely to name those responsible.
After being arrested by French police or paramilitary units, victims were often sent to Poland or Germany for extermination.
Yesterday former Resistance fighter Lucien Guyot said the Petain government ‘went far beyond the Germans’ expectations, in particular with the deportation of “foreign” Jews, including children, to concentration camps’.
Numerous crimes were also committed in the ‘free zone’ in the south of the country where Petain, a First World War hero, ran his government.
Historians believe the archives may clear up what happened to Resistance leader Jean Moulin, who died in 1943 after being caught by the Nazis.
Some say he committed suicide while others say the Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie – the Butcher of Lyon – beat him to death.
Either way, there has long been speculation as to how Moulin fell into Nazi hands in the first place.
He was captured at a Resistance meeting in Lyon – Barbie stormed the house and arrested everyone except for Rene Hardy, a Frenchman who some think was an informer. Hardy was later cleared of all charges of treason.
There have also been furious denials of claims that Moulin was betrayed by Raymond Aubrac, a Jewish member of the Resistance. Aubrac continued to fight to clear his name right up until his death in 2012 aged 97.
Barbie worked for Western intelligence agencies after the war, mainly in South America, but was extradited to France in 1983 to stand trial for crimes against humanity. He died in prison in 1991.