Veteran Nazi Hunter Who Tracked Down Klaus Barbie Running for German Presidency

Beate Klarsfeld, 73, and Jewish husband Serge have devoted their lives to privately tracking down Nazis who took part in the Holocaust.


BERLIN - Germany's opposition Left Party Monday nominated veteran Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld, who tracked down Klaus Barbie, as its candidate in next month's presidential election.

Klarsfeld, 73, has no real chance of beating Joachim Gauck, 72, in the two-horse race. Gauck has been nominated by Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition together with two opposition parties. The appointment is to be made by an assembly of 1,240 public figures, including all the Bundestag.

German Left Party's presidential candidate Beate Klarsfeld, Germany, on Oct. 13, 2011.Credit: AP

Klarsfeld and her husband, Serge, have devoted their lives to privately tracking down Nazis who took part in the Holocaust but returned to postwar life without being brought to justice, tipping off the authorities so they could be arrested.

In Paris, Klarsfeld described the nomination by the Left Party national executive as "wonderful."

"I've just told that the nomination was unanimous," she said. The party said on its website that two other potential nominees had withdrawn. The presidency, a largely ceremonial post, is vacant after Christian Wulff resigned because prosecutors were investigating whether he accepted favors as state premier from a wealthy businessman.

Gauck, a former Lutheran pastor with a strongly anticommunist, pro-freedom message, is practically assured of election on the first ballot, with the opposition Social Democrats and Greens supporting him and only the Left publicly opposed to his election.

The Klarsfelds' most celebrated success was to track down Klaus Barbie, a former Gestapo officer known as the "Butcher of Lyon," who was living in Bolivia in the 1970s under an alias.

In 1983, he was arrested and extradited to France, where he was convicted of crimes against humanity in occupied Lyon between 1942 and 1944. Barbie died of leukemia four years into his life imprisonment.

Klarsfeld was born in Berlin and moved to Paris in 1960 as an au pair, where she met her future husband Serge, who is Jewish and whose father was deported to Auschwitz during World War II.

In Germany, she shot to prominence when she publicly slapped West German Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger in 1968. Klarsfeld accused him of having been a Nazi propagandist.
She was sentenced to one year in prison for the attack but that was later commuted to a four-month suspended sentence.

Klarsfeld spoke of her "great satisfaction" that, despite her strong pro-Israeli views, she had won the endorsement of the Left, which has been critical of Israel.



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