PARIS -- Rene Bousquet, who led the police during the Vichy regime and was responsible for the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews to German concentration camps during World War II, was assassinated Tuesday in his Paris apartment, police said.
The police said Bousquet, 84, was shot in the head by a gunman who appeared at Bousquet's sixth floor apartment in the posh 16th district of the French capital at about 8:45 am Paris time.
The murderer told a domestic employee through the internal building phone that he was delivering a package, then went to the apartment where he fired four shots at Bousquet with a gun he had hiden under a newspaper in his right arm.
The man then fled down the stairs, according to the domestic employee, who alerted the building's concierge. The gunman, believed to be in his mid-fifties, was chased by the concierge but managed to escape through a subway entrance, police said.
Police later arrested a man identified as Christian Didier who claimed to be the assassin. The man, who held a news conference in a hotel outside Paris shortly before his arrest, said he represented 'the good' while Bousquet represented 'the bad.' He was being interrogated by police.
The murder of Bousquet means that the long-awaited trial of a former Nazi sympathizer, the symbol of French collaboration with the Germans during World War II, will not take place.
'We have been fighting for years to bring to justice what Bousquet represents, and we are terrorized by this event and its negative consequences,' said Serge Klarsfeld, the famous Nazi hunter. 'Our efforts to bring to justice the person who incarnates all anti-Jewish action by the Vichy state are thwarted by this act of vengenace that resembles a settling of scores.'
There was speculation in Paris that the murder could have the act of a political friend of Bosquet's because his trial was approaching.
'The only ones who can rejoice at this action are the revisionists of all sorts who would have done everything to slow the course of justice,' the Movement Against Racism and for the Friendship Between People said in a statement.
Bousquet's address in Paris was well known because last year demonstrators placed a plaque in front of his apartment building to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the killings at Vel d'Hiv, a stadium where 4,000 Jews were held before being deported on July 16th and 17th in 1942.
They were among the nearly 13,000 Jews arrested by Paris police on those two days in the biggest single roundup carried out during the war. Nearly all were to die in German concentration camps.
As secretary general of the Vichy police in the Vichy Interior Ministry between April 1942 and December 1943, Bousquet was a key figure in the deportation of Jews to the Nazi camps.
From 1942 to 1945, 75,721 French Jews were deported to Germany, including 11,000 children, according to figures established by historians. Of these, almost 43,000 were immediately taken to the gas chambers, with 2,566 survivors counted at the end of the war in 1945.
The Vichy government, directed by Pierre Laval under the authority of Petain, hoped that in return for its collaboration in deporting Jews it would be granted greater freedom of action in the liberated zone.
Bousquet was first deprived of his civil rights in 1949 for five years, but the sentence was immediately lifted by a higher court for his alleged role in the resistance.
In 1989 several associations of depotees produced a document indicating that Bousquet had cancelled several orders that would have protected the roundup of Jewish children because of their age.
Bousquet was first charged in 1991 for having favored the deportation to Germany of 194 Jewish children during a roundup on Aug. 26, 1942. Then last year he was charged with crimes against humanity.
Bousquet was one of three Frenchmen charged with crimes against humanity. Last week a court in Versailles overturned a lower court and ruled that Paul Touvier, 78, the chief of the Nazi militia in Lyon, could be tried on assassination and deportation charges.
The third man accused of crimes against humanity is Maurice Papon, 82, the secretary general of the Bordeaux prefecture between 1942 and 1944, who is charged with collaborating in the deportation of 1,690 Jews, including 223 children. Papon slater served as chief of the Paris police under Gen. Charles de Gaulle and more recently as Budget Minister during the presidency of Valery Giscard d'Estaing.
A German, Klaus Barbie, was condemned to a life prison term in July 1987 for his pro-Nazi activities in Lyon during the war. Barbie was extradited to France to face trial from Latin America, where he had lived since the end of the war.