Nazi Hunter Runs for German Presidency

Beate Klarsfeld On Ticket of Former East German Communists

Nazi Hunter President: Beate Klarsfeld has forged a name for herself as a fearless Nazi hunter, one whose achievements include bringing to justice Klaus Barbie. Now she is mounting long shot campaign to become president of Germany, with backing from the formerly communist Left Party.
getty images
Nazi Hunter President: Beate Klarsfeld has forged a name for herself as a fearless Nazi hunter, one whose achievements include bringing to justice Klaus Barbie. Now she is mounting long shot campaign to become president of Germany, with backing from the formerly communist Left Party.

By A.J. Goldmann

Published March 11, 2012, issue of March 16, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Over decades, together with her husband, Serge Klarsfeld, Beate Klarsfeld has forged a name for herself as a fearless Nazi hunter, one whose achievements include bringing to justice Klaus Barbie, the so-called “Butcher of Lyon.” During this time, she has also been a staunch defender of Israel.

But today, Klarsfeld is engaged in quite a different, seemingly quixotic campaign: running for the presidency of Germany under the auspices of the Left Party, the modern-day incarnation of the East German Communist Party and the only parliamentary faction in today’s unified Germany to take a stance strongly critical of Israel.

“You will say, why Die Linke?” Klarsfeld told the Forward, referring to the party by its German name. “But it’s the party that has the most sympathy for my work.”

Klarsfeld, now 73, noted that in 2009, the Left Party nominated her unsuccessfully for the Federal Cross of Merit, Germany’s highest civilian honor. “For me it was a great honor,” she said. “I had never been proposed for the Federal Cross by any other party except for Die Linke.”

Klarsfeld’s decision to stand as the Left Party’s candidate for president of Germany has raised eyebrows across the political spectrum. Other than the party’s nomination of Klarsfeld for the Federal Cross, the two don’t have much of a prior relationship. But Klarsfeld expressed enthusiasm for the Left Party’s staunch anti-fascism. “The work of Serge is mainly to remember the victims of Nazism, and this is a part of the party, too,” she said.

During her career, Klarsfeld has found that others in Germany and elsewhere in the West were sometimes much less supportive. In fact, her insistence on pursuing Nazi war criminals comfortably ensconced in powerful post-war positions has often won her nothing but scorn.

Beate and Serge Klarsfeld are perhaps best known for locating and identifying Barbie in 1972. The couple found Barbie, who shipped off 842 people — mainly Jews — to German concentration camps, living under a false identity in Bolivia. Barbie, who had been chief of the Gestapo in Lyon, worked in Bolivia as a paid informant for the West German intelligence service, the BND. In 2001, Robert Wolfe, a historian for the U.S. National Archives’ congressionally mandated research group into the Nazi era, found that Barbie’s escape to Bolivia was organized in 1951 by the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps, which employed him after World War II for his purported anti-communist expertise.

The Klarsfelds were also instrumental in bringing to justice, among others, René Bousquet, a high-ranking French civil servant who was later close to French President François Mitterrand, and Maurice Papon, a French civil servant, industrial leader and postwar Gaullist politician who was convicted for crimes against humanity for his role in deporting more than 1,600 Jews to concentration camps during World War II.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  •'s Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.