Serge Klarsfeld

Serge Klarsfeld (born 17 September 1935) is a Romanian-born French activist and Nazi hunter known for documenting the Holocaust in order to establish the record and to enable the prosecution of war criminals. Since the 1960s, he has made notable efforts to commemorate the Jewish victims of German-occupied France and has been a supporter of Israel.

Serge Klarsfeld
Serge Klarsfeld par Claude Truong-Ngoc septembre 2015.jpg
Serge Klarsfeld (as in 2015)
Born (1935-09-17) 17 September 1935 (age 85)
Known forFrench activist and Nazi hunter
(m. 1963)

Early yearsEdit

Serge Klarsfeld was born in Bucharest into a family of Romanian Jews. They migrated to France before the Second World War began. In 1943, his father was arrested by the SS in Nice during a roundup ordered by Alois Brunner. Deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, Klarsfeld's father died there. Young Serge was cared for in a home for Jewish children operated by the OSE. His mother and sister also survived the war in Vichy France, helped by the underground French Resistance beginning in late 1943.[1]


He helped found and has led the Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees from France (Association des fils et filles des déportés juifs de France) or FFDJF. It is one of the groups that has documented cases and located former German and French officials for prosecution such as Klaus Barbie, René Bousquet, Jean Leguay, Maurice Papon and Paul Touvier, who have been implicated in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of French and foreign Jews during the Second World War. The Klarsfelds were among organised groups who filed cases decades after the war, sometimes as late as the 1990s, against such officials for their crimes against humanity.

In the years before 1989 and the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Klarsfelds (Serge Klarsfeld and his wife Beate) frequently protested against the Eastern Bloc's support for the PLO and anti-Zionism.

Recognition for their work has included France's Legion of Honour in 1984.[2] In 1986, their story was adapted as an American television film starring Tom Conti, Farrah Fawcett and Geraldine Page. In 2008, a French television movie was made about them.

On 1 January 2014, the Klarsfelds' Legion of Honour ranks were upgraded: Serge became Grand officier.[3][4]

On 26 October 2015, the UNESCO designated the Klarsfelds as "Honorary Ambassadors and Special Envoys for Education about the Holocaust and the Prevention of Genocide".[1]

Marriage and familyEdit

Serge married Beate Künzel in 1963 and settled in Paris. Their son, Arno Klarsfeld [fr] (born 1965), became a human rights attorney and worked for Nicolas Sarkozy while he was minister of the interior.


Early activismEdit

In 2012 the archivist of the Stasi revealed that Beate Klarsfeld's attack on German Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger by publicly slapping him on 7 November 1968[5] was carried out in agreement with and the support of the government of East Germany, which was conducting a campaign against West German politicians (see Braunbuch).[6][7] Beate Klarsfeld was paid 2,000 DM by the Stasi for her actions.[8][9] Both Serge and Beate Klarsfeld were revealed to have been regular Stasi contacts.[10] According to the State Commissioner for the Stasi Archives of Saxony, they cooperated with the Stasi in the 1960s in blackmailing West German politicians for Second World War activities.[11]

In 1974, Serge and Beate Klarsfeld were both convicted in West Germany on felony charges of attempted kidnapping of Kurt Lischka, a former Gestapo chief whose prosecution in Germany was prevented by legal technicalities, in Cologne in order to transport him to France for prosecution. After conviction of felony charges, they were each sentenced to two months in prison.[12] Following international protests, the sentence was suspended. Activism by the Klarsfelds and by descendants of Lischka's victims eventually resulted in changes to the laws. In 1980, Lischka was convicted of a felony in West Germany and sentenced to prison.

Attack on the KlarsfeldsEdit

The Klarsfelds' activities and methods generated controversy. On 9 July 1979, the Klarsfelds were the targets of car bombing at their home in France. No one was in the car when the bomb detonated, and no one was injured in the vicinity of the blast. Individuals purporting to represent the Nazi ODESSA claimed responsibility for the attack.

Later activismEdit

They are notable in the postwar decades for having been involved in hunting and finding German Nazis and French Vichy officials responsible for the worst abuses of the Holocaust, in order to prosecute them for alleged war crimes. Several officials were indicted due in part to the work of the Klarsfelds; they included the following, with the years of their convictions or deaths in parentheses:

In the 1970s the Klarsfelds considered kidnapping Barbie in much the same way the Mossad did Eichmann but the plan fell through. They decided instead to bring international pressure to force his extradition.

By 1995, only four senior French Vichy officials had been indicted for war crimes, and by that year, only Paul Touvier had stood trial.[13] Like Touvier, the former Vichy official Maurice Papon was convicted of war crimes in 1998.

The Klarsfelds continued to publicize the wartime activities of prominent politicians in Germany and Austria. In 1986 the Klarsfelds campaigned against former United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, who was elected President of Austria amid allegations that he had covered up his wartime activities as an officer in the Wehrmacht.

In 1996, during the warfare in the former Yugoslavia, the Klarsfelds joined the outcry against Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić for alleged war crimes and genocide of Bosnian Muslims.

In December 2009, Serge Klarsfeld defied an existing consensus within the Jewish community by saying that the beatification of Pope Pius XII was an internal matter of the Church. He said that Jews should not get too involved in the process.[14] Many Jews were protesting the beatification, as they said that Pius XII had contributed to the persecution of Jews throughout Europe, and had not brought the power of the church against the Nazis for their mistreatment of Jews and other persecuted peoples.

Activism in FranceEdit

In France in 1979 the Klarsfelds created l'Association des fils et filles des déportés juifs de France (Association of the sons and daughters of Jews deported from France) or FFDJF. It defends the cause of the descendants of deportees, to have the events recognised and to prosecute people responsible. In 1981, the association commissioned a memorial in Israel to the deported French Jews; it bears the name, date and place of birth of 80,000 French victims of the Nazi extermination. About 80,000 trees were planted to shape a forest of remembrance. Serge Klarsfeld is also Vice-President of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah.

In 1989 FFDJF was one of the groups to file a case against René Bousquet, head of the French Police in the Vichy government, for crimes against humanity. He was indicted by the French government in 1991, but killed in 1993 shortly before his trial was to begin.

The Klarsfelds' work on behalf of the descendants of Jewish deportees was formally recognised by President Jacques Chirac in a 1995 speech.[15] He acknowledged the nation's responsibility for the fate of Jews in its territory during the Second World War. The government passed a law on 13 July 2000 to establish compensation for orphans whose parents were victims of anti-Semitic persecution.

On 7 July 2010, Serge Klarsfeld was awarded the title of commandeur de la Légion d'honneur by Prime Minister François Fillon at Hôtel Matignon, the official residence of France's Prime Minister.[16][17]

In January 2012, the Klarsfelds, along with prominent French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour, director Robert Guédiguian, and philosophers Bernard-Henri Lévy and Michel Onfray, signed an appeal to the French Parliament to ratify a bill to establish penalties for people who deny the Armenian genocide.[18][19]

In July 2018, the Klarsfelds were profiled at length on CNN, which noted their swing away from Nazi hunting to a more-general push for social justice in opposition to the modern right.[20] Today, they fight for human life, freedom, and social protection.[20]


In 1978, Serge Klarsfeld published Mémorial de la Déportation des Juifs de France (Memorial of the Deportation of the Jews of France), a book listing the names of more than 80,000 Jews deported from France to concentration camps or killed in France. Copies of the original lists that were typed up for each deportation train, found by the Klarsfelds in an archive of the Jewish community in Paris, were the basis for the name, place, date of birth and nationality of all deportees, who were listed according to each deportation train. The book records more than 75,700 Jews who were deported to the concentration camps from France and establishes that just 2,564 of the deportees survived the war. Most of the deportees were sent from the transit camp at Drancy, ranging in age from newly born to 93 and originating from 37 countries, the most from France (22,193) and Poland (14,459), with a small number from the United States (10) and even one from Tahiti.[21][22] In 2012, Klarsfeld published an updated version of the Memorial, adding women's maiden names, deportees last address in France and the transit or internment camp they went through. This list is sorted in alphabetic order. From 2018, this memorial is also available as an online search engine.[23]

Serge Klarsfeld wrote a preface to Une adolescence perdue dans la nuit des camps by Henri Kichka.[24]

Serge Klarsfeld and his wife Beate co-wrote an autobiography, Hunting the Truth: Memoirs of Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, published in 2018.[25]

Cooperation with the StasiEdit

Since the reunification of Germany and the opening of Stasi files, in 2012 Lutz Rathenow, the State Commissioner for the Stasi Archives of Saxony, has stated that Beate Klarsfeld cooperated with the Stasi of East Germany in the 1960s. They gave her material containing incriminating information about the wartime activities of West German politicians.[26][27] The cooperation of both Beate and Serge Klarsfeld with the Stasi and their status as contacts was also documented in a new book by former Stasi officers, Günter Bohnsack and Herbert Brehmer.[10]

Later years in GermanyEdit

In May 2015, Beate Klarsfeld and her husband Serge received the German Federal Cross of Merit, in recognition of their efforts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice.


Representation in other mediaEdit

  • The Klarsfelds' activities related to finding Nazi war criminals were the subject of Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story (1986), an American made-for-TV film.
  • The documentary La traque des nazis, (2007) studied Simon Wiesenthal's and the Klarsfelds' activities.[29]
  • The 2008 drama La traque was a French made-for-TV film, written by Alexandra Deman and Laurent Jaoui and directed by Laurent Jaoui, based on the Klarsfelds.
  • The 2001 documentary Marlene Dietrich: Her Own Song, a Turner Classic Movies Production about Dietrich mentions her support of Klarsfeld's anti-Nazi activities.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "UNESCO Honours Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, for their work to preserve the history and teaching of the Holocaust". UNESCO. 26 October 2015.
  2. ^ "". Klarsfeld Foundation. Archived from the original on 8 March 2012. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  3. ^ "La légion d'honneur pour Michèle Morgan, Alain Decaux, Serge Klarsfeld". La Dépêche (in French). 2 January 2014.
  4. ^ Jennifer Schuessler. Arts, Briefly. The New York Times, 2 January 2014, p. C2, under "Danielle Steel Awarded French Legion of Honor": "Among the other honorees were the Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld."
  5. ^ Axel Frohn (7 November 2008). "Klarsfeld-Skandal: Klatsche für den Kanzler". Spiegel Online (in German). Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  6. ^ "Bundespräsidentschafts-Kandidatin - Klarsfelds Ohrfeige war mit DDR abgesprochen" [Klarsfeld Slap Prearranged with GDR]. Berliner Morgenpost (in German). Berlin. 3 March 2012. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  7. ^ "Bundespräsidentenwahl: Klarsfeld hatte Aktionen gegen Kiesinger mit DDR besprochen" [Klarsfled Arranged Action Against Kiesinger with GDR]. (in German). FAZ. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  8. ^ "Präsidentschaftskandidatin der Linken: SED-Geld für Klarsfeld?" [Presidential Candidate of the Left: SED-Cash for Klarsfeld?]. Bild (in German). 8 March 2012. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  9. ^ "Angeblicher SED-Dank: Klarsfeld soll 2000 Mark für Kiesinger-Ohrfeige erhalten haben" [Alleged SED Reward: 2000 Marks to Klarsfeld for Kiesinger Slap]. Spiegel Online (in German). Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  10. ^ a b Von Matthias Meisner (29 February 2012). "Präsidenschaftskandidatin der Linkspartei: DDR-Bürgerrechtler Rathenow hinterfragt Klarsfelds Stasikontakte" [Presidential Candidate of the Left party: DDR Human Rights Campaigner Rathenow Scrutinizes Klarsfelds Contacts With Stasi]. Tagesspiegel (in German). Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  11. ^ "Ex-DDR-Bürgerrechtler wirft Klarsfeld Stasi-Kontakte vor" [Ex GDR Human Rights Campaigner Accuses Klarsfeld as Stasi Contact] (in German). Stern.De. 6 February 2012. Archived from the original on 4 March 2012. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  12. ^ "Versuchte Entführung von Kurt Lischka - Politik -". 22 March 2006. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  13. ^ MARY DEJEVSKY, "Killer's tale stirs ghosts of Vichy", The Independent (UK), 7 November 1995, 28 May 2012
  14. ^ "Serge Klarsfeld : "Il n'y a aucune raison pour que Pie XII ne devienne pas saint"" [Serge Klarsfeld: "There is no reason why Pius XII shouldn't become a saint"]. Le Point (in French). 24 December 2009. Archived from the original on 13 March 2010. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  15. ^ "(--)" (in French).[dead link]
  16. ^ "Discours de M. François Fillon, Premier ministre. Remise des insignes de commandeur de la Légion d'honneur à M. Serge Klarsfeld. Hôtel Matignon" [Speech of Prime Minister François Fillon. Decoration of Serge Klarsfeld with the Insignia of the Commander of the Legion of Honor at Hotel Matignon.] (PDF) (in French). 7 July 2010. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  17. ^ "Discours de M. Serge Klarsfeld. Remise des insignes de commandeur de la Légion d'honneur. Hôtel Matignon" [Speech of Serge Klarsfled. Decoration of Serge Klarsfeld with the Insignia of the Commander of the Legion of Honor at Hotel Matignon.] (PDF) (in French). 7 July 2010. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  18. ^ "Aznavour, philosophers, Turkish writer call French Senate to ratify bill penalizing Armenian Genocide | Armenia News". 13 June 2009. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  19. ^ "Nouvelles d'Arménie en Ligne" [Armenia News Online] (in French). Archived from the original on 7 January 2016. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  20. ^ a b Andelman, David (4 July 2018). "From Nazi hunters to warriors against today's fascism". CNN. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  21. ^ Hellman, Peter (4 November 1979). "Nazi Hunting is Their Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  22. ^ "Klarsfeld Foundation: Chronology". Paris, France: Klarsfeld Foundation. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  23. ^ Serge Klarsfeld; Jean-Pierre Stroweis. "Searching the Memorial to the Jews Deported from France in One Step". Retrieved 22 July 2020.
  24. ^ Kichka, Henri (2006). Une adolescence perdue dans la nuit des camps [An adolescent lost in the night of the camps]. Voix personnelles (in French) (4th ed.). L. Pire. ISBN 978-2-87415-626-7. Retrieved 22 July 2020.
  25. ^ Hunting the Truth: Memoirs of Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018, ISBN 9780374279820.
  26. ^ Ex-DDR-Bürgerrechtler wirft Klarsfeld Stasi-Kontakte vor Archived 2012-03-04 at the Wayback Machine, Stern, 29 February 2012
  27. ^ Kellerhoff, Sven Felix (5 March 2012). "Klaus Barbie: Nazi-Jägerin Klarsfeld ist mehr Mythos als Wahrheit - Nachrichten Politik - Deutschland - WELT ONLINE". Die Welt (in German). Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  28. ^ Journal De Monaco p. 2821 Serge Klarsfeld, Membre de la Commission chargée de l'assistance aux victimes de spoliations de biens subies à Monaco durant la seconde guerre mondialeou à leurs ayants-droit, 20 November 2015, accessed 27 January 2020
  29. ^ Archived February 18, 2008, at the Wayback Machine

Bibliography of works in EnglishEdit

  • 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 0-8147-2662-3 Translation of Le mémorial des enfants juifs déportés de France (1995)

External linksEdit

  Media related to Serge Klarsfeld at Wikimedia Commons

1986 film
2008 film