Germany honors Nazi-hunter couple Beate and Serge Klarsfeld | News | DW | 20.07.2015
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Germany honors Nazi-hunter couple Beate and Serge Klarsfeld

A couple responsible for bringing several Nazi criminals to justice has been awarded Germany's Federal Order of Merit. Beate and Serge Klarsfeld warned of renewed anti-Semitism during the prize ceremony.

The Klarsfelds received the Federal Order of Merit at the German embassy in Paris on Monday. Beate Klarsfeld, 76, and her husband Serge, who is three years older, were praised for their "courageous" work in hunting for former Nazi officials who had either gone into hiding or even continued to work in public life after World War II.

"Their extraordinary dedication spanning over decades has been extremely valuable for Germany, for its standing in the world and for German-French relations," Susanne Wasum-Rainer, Germany's ambassador in France, said at the award ceremony in Paris.

The Klarsfelds together followed a "mission" to "openly denounce the abominations committed by the Nazis and to perpetuate the memory of the victims of the Shoah [the Hebrew name for the Holocaust]," Wasum-Rainer told the audience.

Beate Klarsfeld described the honor as immensely satisfying. "It is wonderful when you know, that after so many years, you are taken for someone who has done the right thing," she told news agency AFP. She was often seen as a "bad girl" in Germany, she said, adding that she faced "hurdles, difficult moments, but never discouragement."

Later, on regional radio, Klarsfeld warned of a new form of anti-Semitism affecting Europe.

"The Jewish people has a new enemy - namely the Islamists," she said. "But here in France we also face a new danger, and that is the National Front," Klarsfeld said of the far-right party led by Marine Le Pen.

A life dedicated to justice

Kriegsverbrecherprozess gegen Klaus Barbie

Klaus Barbie was the Gestapo chief in Lyon

Beate Klarsfeld was born in Berlin, and met her husband at a Paris metro station in 1960. Her husband Serge had managed to escape a raid in 1943, in which his father was arrested and deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz.

Serge Klarsfeld went on to become a lawyer, while his wife worked for a German-French youth organization. Both decided to dedicate their lives tracing former Nazi officials who had committed crimes against Jews.

One of the most significant of these was Klaus Barbie, the chief of the Nazi secret service, the Gestapo, in Lyon. Extensive research and activism by the couple led to Barbie's extradition from Bolivia in 1983.

Beate Klarsfeld shot to prominence in Germany when she publicly slapped then-Chancellor Kurt-Georg Kiesinger in 1968 at a Christian Democrat party conference in West Berlin. She shouted "Nazi!" repeatedly while striking the chancellor; Klarsfeld's earlier journalistic efforts to lay bare Kiesinger's position within the Nazi regime had fallen flat.

She was heavily criticized for her actions and even sentenced to year in prison, later reduced to four months' parole. As a French resident under the laws of the time, however, she never had to serve the sentence.

In 2012, she was nominated for the federal president's position. This pitted her against Joachim Gauck, who won the job comfortably, and who signed the paperwork approving the Klarsfelds - at the third attempt - for the Federal Order.

The Klarsfelds received the prize on the 71st anniversary of Nazi General Claus von Stauffenberg's attempt to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944.

"Unlike Claus von Stauffenberg, they won their battle," the German ambassador said of the Klarsfelds. Stauffenberg's assassination plan, seeking to smuggle a bomb into a meeting with Hitler in a briefcase, did not succeed. The case was moved after Stauffenberg had left the room; the explosion killed four people, but not Hitler. Stauffenberg was executed by a Nazi firing squad the next day.

mg/msh (dpa, AFP)

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