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France awards top honours to Nazi hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld

Ludovic Marin/Pool/AFP | Nazi hunters Serge (L) and Beate Klarsfeld arrive at the burial ceremony for former French politician and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil and her husband Antoine Veil at the Pantheon in Paris on July 1, 2018.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

>> The Interview: 'It was our duty to bring Nazis to justice', Beate Klarsfeld tells FRANCE 24

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.

(AFP)

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