Serge Klarsfeld and his wife Beate are best known
to the public as Nazi hunters. It's a term they're not fully comfortable with,
since the restoration of the names and faces of the victims is more important
to them than punishment of the murderers. Still, over three decades, the
actions of this couple against Nazi criminals, focusing on the "desk murderers"
rather than on lowly camp guards, have been astonishingly effective. As private
citizens, they wield neither political nor police power, depending instead on
dramatic acts of moral symbolism to get results. The first and purest example
was Beate's public slapping of West German Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger in
1968. That slap was a reproach to the presumption that a man who had been an
ambitious Nazi propagandist should lead a new, democratic Germany. Kiesinger
lost the1969 general election to Willy Brandt, who had been an opponent of and
a refugee from Nazism.
In the early 1970's, the Klarsfelds focused
global attention on Klaus Barbie, the former Gestapo officer known as the
"Butcher of Lyons," then in his comfortable Bolivian hiding place. They
persevered in a lonely, ten-year campaign to bring Barbie to justice,
culminating in his dramatic extradition to France in 1983 and his trial four
years later. Another long effort finally brought the trial in Cologne in 1979
of Kurt Lischka, Ernst Heinrichsohn, and Herbert Hagen, three Nazis responsible
for the deportation of Jews from Occupied France, who, until then, had been
living free and unpunished in postwar Germany. The couple also carried out
on-site campaigns against such Nazi criminals as Walter Rauff, the inventor of
the mobile gas chamber, who had found refuge in Chile, and Alois Brunner, a
trusted henchman of Adolf Eichmann, hosted by Syria. Brunner was another key
figure in the deportation of Jews especially children from
France. He also headed a special unit which arrested Jews in Nice in 1943.
Among those arrested was Serge's father, Arno, who offered himself for arrest
in order to save his wife and children who were hiding behind a false panel in
their apartment. He was murdered in Auschwitz.
No less astonishing than
their record against Nazi criminals is the fact that, despite putting their
bodies on the line in many unfriendly venues, including Damascus, Beirut,
Khomeini's Iran, and Karadzic's Pale, the Klarsfelds are still alive to tell
the tale. The only casualty has been their car destroyed by a bomb in
its garage in 1979. While the Klarsfelds often act alone, they created in 1979,
on the eve of the Cologne trial, the Fils et Filles des Déportées
Juifs de France-FFDJF, the Sons and Daughters of Jews Deported from France.
This organization filled a special train which carried them to the trial at
Cologne, where they marched, proudly, the first Jews to do so in Germany since
Hitler rose to power. Another special train organized by the FFDJF marked the