(AFP) France’s most famous Nazi hunters, Serge Klarsfeld and his German wife Beate, received top honours in a ceremony led by French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday.
Serge Klarsfeld, 83, received the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, France’s highest award, while the 79-year-old Beate Klarsfeld received the National Order of Merit, having already been decorated with the Legion of Honour in 2014, with the rank of Grand Officer.
Félicitations à Serge et Beate Klarsfeld qui se sont vus remettre ce soir les insignes de Grand’ Croix et de Grand Officier de l’Ordre national du Mérite par le Président de la République. pic.twitter.com/KGZ14xM9tp
— Fondation Shoah (@Fondation_Shoah) October 8, 2018
The Chief Rabbi of France Haim Korsia was among those who attended the ceremony at the Elysee Palace limited to family and close friends and associates.
Born September 17, 1935, in the Romanian capital Bucharest, Serge Klarsfeld escaped the Holocaust after his family moved to France but saw his father taken away to die in the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp.
He was naturalised in 1950, and 10 years later, 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.
>> Focus: Serge and Beate Klarsfeld publish memoirs of Nazi-hunting years
The two, who married three years later, decided to bring fugitive Nazis to justice, a mission they pursued for more than half a century.
In one of their most high-profile cases, the Klarsfelds found the notorious Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, a former Gestapo officer known as the “Butcher of Lyon” for his wartime torture of prisoners, who had escaped to South America.
Fier d’être présent à la remise des insignes de Grand Croix de l ordre national du Mérite a Serge Klarsfeld et de grand officier de l ordre du Merite à Béate Klarsfeld par @EmmanuelMacron @Elysee pic.twitter.com/JpjYcIPG5A
— Ilan Scialom (@ilscialom) October 8, 2018
In 1971, the Klarsfelds revealed that Barbie was living in Bolivia, and in 1983 he was extradited to France. Four years later he was convicted in a trial, and later died behind bars.
They also 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.
“Neither could have succeeded without the other,” their daughter Lida once said.