Nazi hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld after being awarded with the Legion of Honor in 2014. AP/Press Association Images
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This Nazi-hunting husband/wife team even tried to kidnap an SS officer

Serge and Beath Klarsfeld hunted down Klaus Barbie, a former Gestapo officer known as the “Butcher of Lyon”.

FRANCE’S MOST FAMOUS Nazi hunters, Serge Klarsfeld and his German wife Beate, this week launched their memoirs about their decades spent tracking down Hitler’s henchmen.

The book, published in France to a flurry of media attention, recounts how Klarsfeld, a Jew born in 1935 in Bucharest, escaped the Holocaust after his family moved to France but saw his father taken away to die in the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp.

In 1960, while studying at the prestigious Science-Po university in Paris, Klarsfled met Beate Kuenzel, the daughter of a former German soldier, on a metro platform. The two, who married three years later, decided to bring fugitive Nazis to justice.

“Serge told me, there’s no need to be ashamed to be German, but you need to become politically involved” to redress the country’s wartime legacy, Beate says.

Together, Serge Klarsfeld added, the couple decided to help “bring down the chancellor” of Germany at the time, Kurt Georg Kiesinger, a former Nazi party member who had been a top official responsible for radio propaganda under Joseph Goebbels.

But what could they do? “The traditional methods didn’t work,” Beate said. So the two decided to make a dramatic gesture.

Failed kidnap plot

On November 7, 1968, Beate publicly slapped Kiesinger during a Berlin congress of his CDU party and called him a Nazi. The chancellor held on to power until elections the following year saw Willy Brandt take office.

The same sense of theatre and action informed other campaigns.

6969250077_67dfd0e282_z SS Officer Klaus Barbie was found in Bolivia by the Klarsfelds. Flickr / EdwinSeppings Flickr / EdwinSeppings / EdwinSeppings

In 1971, they hatched a failed plot to kidnap Kurt Lischka, a former SS officer living in Cologne, Germany, and to send him to France, where a court had convicted him and sentenced him to hard labour.

They also hunted Klaus Barbie, a former Gestapo officer known as the “Butcher of Lyon” for his wartime torture of prisoners, who had escaped to South America.

In 1971, the Klarsfelds revealed Barbie was living in Bolivia, and in 1983 he was extradited to France and four years later convicted in a trial and died behind bars.

Serge Klarsfeld said “divine intervention” had led him to find a damning telex signed by Barbie that showed him ordering the deportation of 44 children.

Despite a 1979 car bomb attack and other threats against their life attributed to neo-Nazi groups, the Klarsfelds kept up their activism.

They pursued members of France’s collaborationist Vichy regime, including Rene Bouquet, Jean Leguay and Marice Papon — despite obstruction from president Francois Mitterrand.

Mitterrand’s successor Jacques Chirac finally recognised France’s role in the deportations, a declaration Serge Klarsfeld said owed much to his and Beate’s campaigning.

“Each person,” he said, “can do a lot more in life than what they believe themselves capable of.”

© – AFP 2015

Read: Photos of the abandoned Olympic Village built for the 1936 games in Nazi Germany will give you chills >

Read: Holocaust survivor: ‘I’m starting to see nasty things happen again in Europe’ >

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