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Serge and Beate Klarsfeld

Serge (born September 17, 1935, Bucharest, Romania) and Beate (born February 13, 1939, Berlin, Germany) Klarsfeld are French- Romanian activists known for engaging in Holocaust documentation and anti-Nazi activism.

They were involved in finding Klaus Barbie, René Bousquet, Jean Leguay, Maurice Papon and Paul Touvier and seeking prosecution for their war crimes.

In 1984, they were awarded France's Legion of Honour by President Mitterrand.

In 1986, their story was adapted into a TV movie starring Tom Conti, Farrah Fawcett and Geraldine Page.


Early years

Serge Klarsfeld, a Jewish person, spent the war years in France. In 1943, his father was arrested by the SS in Nice during a roundup ordered by Alois Brunner, and deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he died. Young Serge was cared for in a home for Jewish children operated by the OSE (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants) organization; his mother and sister also survived the war in Vichy France, helped by underground French Resistance after late 1943.

Beate was born Beate Künzel, the daughter of a Christian, German-born, regular Wehrmacht soldier. The couple were married in 1963 and made their home in Paris. Their son, Arno Klarsfeld, born 1965, is a human-rights attorney and he has worked with French president Nicolas Sarkozy during his tenure as minister of the interior.



Early activism in Germany

In 1966 Beate was fired from her job at the Deutsch-Französisches Jugendwerk (Franco-German Alliance for Youth), simply for denouncing the West German Chancellor, Kurt Georg Kiesinger, for his involvement in Nazi propaganda during the Third Reich. At that time, several leading West German politicians had Nazi backgrounds which, during the first two decades after the war, had been conveniently forgotten. She gained international attention when she slapped Kiesinger during a party convention in 1968. Remarkably, that very evening Beate Klarsfeld was sentenced to one year in prison for insulting the Chancellor and for the premeditated infliction of bodily harm. In early 1969, the basic punishment upheld the original opinion of the court but was reduced to 4 months probation in a "merciful judgement," as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung stated. At that time, Horst Mahler, at present a Holocaust denier, was her attorney.

Deportation from Poland

In August 1970, Beate was arrested in Warsaw by the Polish authorities and deported for having protested against what she perceived as Polish antisemitism (which was officially known rather as anti-Zionism in the Soviet bloc). This was considered as a direct insult to the Polish socialist state and to Polish nationhood; she was accused of being a German spy trying to cause uproar in the People's Republic of Poland.

Kurt Lischka

In 1971, Serge and Beate tried to abduct Kurt Lischka, a former Gestapo chief from Cologne, West Germany, and hand him over to the French authorities (his prosecution in Germany being prevented by legal technicalities resulting from a prior conviction). The Klarsfelds were convicted of felony charges and sentenced to two months in prison in 1974. Due to international protests, the sentence was suspended. This incident, and later activities by the Klarsfelds and by descendants of Lischka's victims, eventually resulted in a revision of the legal situation and, in 1980, in Lischka's felony conviction and sentence.

Attack on the Klarsfelds

The Klarsfelds were the targets of car bombing at their home in France on July 9, 1979. No one was in the car when the bomb detonated, and no one was injured in the blast. Individuals purporting to represent the pro-Nazi ODESSA secret international organization claimed responsibility for the attack and demanded that the Klarsfelds stop pursuing (former) Nazis.

Later activism

The Klarsfelds campaigned against former United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, elected President of Austria in 1986 amid allegations that he covered up his war time activities as an officer in the Wehrmacht.

Beate Klarsfeld was arrested and deported from Syria in 1991 after she traveled to Damascus to publicize Syria's harboring of Alois Brunner,[1] who, as commander of the Drancy internment camp outside Paris from June 1943 to August 1944, was responsible for sending some 140,000 European Jews to the gas chambers. Brunner was condemned in absentia in France in 2001 to a life sentence for crimes against humanity.

In 1996, they joined the outcry against Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić for alleged war crimes and genocide in the former Yugoslavia.

In December 2009, Serge defied an existing consensus within the Jewish community by saying that the beatification of Pope Pius XII was an internal matter of the Church and that Jews should not get too involved in the process.[2]

Other achievements in France

In France they created in 1979 l'Association des fils et filles des déportés juifs de France (Association of the son and daughters of Jews deported from France) or FFDJF, which is responsible for defending the cause of the descendants of deportees. In 1981, the association inaugurated a memorial in Israel of deported French Jews which bears the name, date and place of birth of 80,000 French victims of the Nazi extermination. About 80,000 trees form a forest of remembrance.

Their work on behalf of sons and daughters of deportees include formal recognition by President Jacques Chirac in a 1995 speech [1] acknowledging the responsibility of France for the plight of Jews during the Second World War and a law (2000-657 of 13 July 2000) establishing a remedy for orphans whose parents were victims of anti-Semitic persecution. Serge Klarsfeld is also Vice-President of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah.

Film treatment

The Klarsfelds' activities of finding and pursuing Nazi war criminals was made the object of a 1986 film entitled Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story. The movie showed that the one-year sentence imposed upon Beate Klarsfeld could not be enforced upon her as the incident took place in West Berlin and that as she was a French citizen, the court had no jurisdiction over her (West Berlin at that time was governed by the Quadripartite Agreement between the Four Powers and not West Germany. The German courts there could only try German nationals).

The documentary La traque des nazis regarding Simon Wiesenthal's and the Klarsfelds' history appeared in 2007.[3]

In 2008 the drama La traque, writen by Alexandra Deman and Laurent Jaoui and directed by Laurent Jaoui, was made about the true story of the Klarsfelds. [4]


  1. ^ Cook, Bernard A. Europe Since 1945: An Encyclopedia, "Klarsfeld, Beate (1939-)", Routledge, 2001, p. 48.
  2. ^ Le Point article
  3. ^
  4. ^

Bibliography of works in English

  • The Children of Izieu: A Human Tragedy. New York: Harry N. Abrams Publishers, 1985. ISBN 0-8109-2307-6 Translation of Les enfants d'Izieu (1985)
  • French Children of the Holocaust: A Memorial. New York: New York University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8147-2992-3 Translation of Le mémorial des enfants juifs déportés de France (1995)

See also

External links

1986 film


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