Paul Touvier was one of the most high-profile members of the Milice to be traced and prosecuted after the end of World War Two. Touvier was head of the Lyon Milice and as such was pivotal in the city’s campaign against the French Resistance in and around Lyon.
From 1936 to 1939, Touvier worked at a local railway station. In 1939 he was called up for the French military and served in the French 8th Infantry Regiment until he deserted. He returned to his home in the southeast of France safe in the knowledge that the French military authorities could not touch him as Chambéry had been occupied by Italian forces.
Defeated France was divided into an occupied zone and an unoccupied zone (Vichy France). Touvier came out in solid support of the Vichy regime and the leadership of Marshal Petain. Having deserted from the French Army, Touvier drifted into black market activities. This greatly angered his father and he persuaded his son to join the Milice, formed in January 1943, in an attempt to get discipline back into his life.
Touvier excelled in his new work and swiftly rose up the ranks of the Milice. He was appointed head of intelligence of the Chambéry Milice and working under the guidance of Klaus Barbie became deputy regional head. The Milice was tasked with hunting out members of the French Resistance and there were few rules as to what they could, and more important, what they could not do. There is no doubt that Touvier went about his work with great energy in the Lyon region. His work only served to escalate the violence seen in the area. A Milice success was followed by Resistance retribution, which in turn was followed by Milice retribution etc.
The power of the Milice collapsed after the successful D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944. Milice members knew that they could not openly stay in France: many fled to Franco’s Spain while others fled to Nazi Germany where they joined the Waffen-SS. Those who stayed in France and were caught were given short shrift – most had the most basic of trials before being hanged or shot. The general assumption was that if you wore the uniform of the Milice you were guilty of collaboration with the enemy. Knowing what his fate would be, Touvier went into hiding. He was tried in his absence for collaboration and treason and on September 10th, 1946, he was sentenced to death ‘in absentia’. For this to be effective, Touvier had to be captured within a 20-year time frame. This never occurred and in 1971, Touvier was given a presidential pardon. There was public outrage at the decision.
Touvier was eventually found in May 1989 living at a priory in Nice. He was held for 2 years before being given provisional release in July 1991. His trial began on March 17th 1994 and on April 20th Touvier was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison. He died of cancer in prison on July 17th 1996.