In a joint memoir, a pair of notable Nazi hunters review their half-century of disputing acceptance of mass murderers in decent society.
The authors, husband and wife, tell their story by turns. Serge was hidden in a cupboard in the south of France as his father was taken by the Germans to be killed in Auschwitz. He was 8. Beate was a German Christian child living in the ruins of the Third Reich. They met as adults, and their reciprocal affection complemented their innate passion for justice. Aware of the importance of press coverage of the atrocities around them, they publicized the histories of the perpetrators who carried out the Nazi regime’s killing of France’s Jews. In one wonderful photo-op, Beate contrived to publicly slap the face of German Chancellor—and quondam Nazi—Kiesinger. They created commotions, brandished placards, held press conferences, broke windows, and traveled the world. In acts of civil disobedience, Beate chained herself at appropriate venues and arranged to get arrested in diverse jurisdictions; some courts, anxious to avoid publicity, were not ready to prosecute. Serge researched, produced irrefutable documentation, and provided exhaustive dossiers to reporters and prosecutors. He became a lawyer and, with his son, took part in many trials and legal proceedings, several of which were provoked by the Klarsfelds. They were active in the exposures of Klaus Barbie, “the Butcher of Lyon,” and of Kurt Waldheim, the former secretary-general of the U.N. The Klarsfelds believed there were no closed cases. There were always more war criminals, anti-Semites, and Holocaust deniers in more places—more than enough for the independent anti-fascists to continue their lifelong mission despite bomb threats and attempted murder. Avenging the memories of the millions who lost their lives was, and remains, an important vocation. As their story unfolds, readers may note a faint, unavoidable touch of vainglory; never mind, what they have accomplished is worthy of high praise.
With bravery and chutzpah, a husband and wife demonstrate that there’s no moral compromise with history.