HOW WE MET: SERGE AND BEATE KLARSFELD
Sunday 16 March 1997
SERGE KLARSFELD: We met in the Paris Metro in May 1960; our apartment now is exactly above the spot where I first saw Beate. She was on the platform and I went up and started talking to her. You could call it destiny. If I hadn't spoken to her, my fate would have been completely different.
I think it took a few months before I realised she was the woman of my life, but we got on well from the very beginning. She was just like she is now - kind, gentle, intelligent, but dynamic as well. I really like Stendhal and for me a woman should be just like one of his heroines - energetic, virtuous and independent. Yet, she should also be very womanly - a good homemaker.
When we first met, Beate was an au pair, but soon after we met she got a job as a secretary at the Franco-German Youth Office. While she was working there, Kurt-Georg Kiesinger was appointed German Chancellor; we read in Le Figaro that he had been involved with Nazi radio propaganda during the war. Beate was outraged and wrote an article for a French newspaper. It was followed by a second article, then a third; soon after, she was given the sack.
It was then that we decided to act. I got documentation together about Kiesinger from East Germany and the States, and Beate took this big file around German universities and conferences. Then we started to use more dramatic methods - like Beate slapping Kiesinger across the face at a party rally and calling him a Nazi. His party was beaten by a very small margin in the general election and he was replaced by a former Resistance fighter, Willy Brandt.
Brandt then nominated Ernst Achenbach as a member of the European Commission. We knew that Achenbach was the head of the political section of the German embassy in Paris during the war, and we knew that the embassy co-operated with the Gestapo. Beate put together a file concerning its activities; while working on it, we came across documents signed by people like Lischka and Hagen, who were still unpunished in Germany. So we decided to obtain a new law for the judgement of war criminals.
Then, in the Seventies, Beate went to South America to expose Klaus Barbie. She campaigned in Bolivia to make the public understand that he was not simply a political refugee, but a criminal who had sent children to their death, Nine years later, we finally managed to get Barbie extradited to France.
Beate went to all of the dictatorships in South America. She campaigned in Uruguay in 1977 when it was ruled by the military junta, and went to Pinochet's Chile, where she demonstrated in front of the presidential palace. She has also been to the Middle East, offering herself as a hostage in return for the release of others. Her last trip abroad was to Syria three years ago. She had false ID papers and was arrested for demonstrating in front of the Syrian Home Ofice, demanding the extradition of Alois Brunner to face allegations of war crimes.
Yet, whenever she went on an expedition, she was never away a long time. Even when she was thrown into prison in Germany it was only for a few weeks at a time. So, we have never really spent much time apart. In any case, I find it difficult to imagine us being separated for any length of time because life is so short. Afterwards, we will be apart for eternity, so we prefer to be together as much as possible now. We are very happy together and have a very active family life. We have always spent a lot of time with the children and have constantly had pets - dogs, cats, even a monkey.
I think that people who love each other end up resembling each other. Quite often, we have the same thoughts and are really incredibly similar. Perhaps I'm more messy at home and Beate is less organised in terms of paperwork. But, whatever differences there may have been at the start, they no longer exist. Although we have never spoken about it, I think we would like to die together. It seems quite normal for us to disappear at the same time.
BEATE KLARSFELD: We met in the Paris Metro. Serge was a student at the time and I had come to Paris as an au pair. I was on my way to the Alliance Francaise for French classes and had the blue book that was given to all students there. So he knew that I was a foreigner and guessed that I was German. But, to start up a conversation, he asked me if I was English and then we chatted together. At the end, I gave him my telephone number. He called me a few days later and we went to the cinema to see a Greek film, Never on Sunday.
At that time, he was a very elegant young man. The day we met, he was wearing a Prince of Wales checked suit because he was going to a Franco- German party at the Paris University's German hostel that very evening. However, he was not the type to pick up lots of girls and take them for a ride. We continued to see each other regularly until the summer, when I went away on holiday with my family. Then we started to write to each other. He used to correct all my mistakes in French, which annoyed me just a little bit.
When I really started to get to know him, he told me quite quickly that he was Jewish and that his father had been deported and had died at Auschwitz. Serge also told me how his father had saved the family. They had gone to Nice when the town was still occupied by the Italians because they were quite welcoming to Jews. But in 1943, the Nazis arrived and rounded up the Jewish community (we believe at the instigation of Alois Brunner). My father-in-law had foreseen this possibility, and had put a false back into a cupboard. When the Germans arrived, he hid the family in there and then opened the apartment's door. When they asked, "Where is the rest of your family?" he replied that they had gone away to the countryside for a few days. Well, you'll have to come with us, he was told. Before he left, he just had time to open the back of the cupboard; that was the last time Serge saw his father.
What really attracted me to Serge at first was the fact that he was very educated. He began to give me history lessons about Germany. I didn't know all that much about what happened during the war: at that time, it wasn't talked about in German schools. Serge showed me films, gave me books and we'd watch documentaries together. He'd also collect newspaper articles for me.
It was me who led the campaign against Kiesinger, because it was more my problem. I wanted to rebel against a Germany in which Nazis had been able to change their colours after the war. What is more, if a Jew had slapped a Nazi chancellor across the face, it wouldn't have had the same impact. It would simply have been seen as an act of revenge. Whereas in my case, it was an act of revenge by the younger generation against a generation of Nazis.
Serge really is a very good person. He is good-tempered, just, very tolerant and often extremely objective. When he decides to take up a cause, he'll fight with all the means at his disposal. He is also very courageous. When we were campaigning for Nazi war criminals to be brought to justice in Germany, we decided to show the government that if they did not act, then people could just take justice into their own hands. Serge travelled to Cologne and went up to Lischka in the street with a revolver, which was not loaded. Later, we tried to abduct Lischka (unsuccessfully) - anyone could have shot at Serge then.
When you love somebody, you are never really happy about them being in such circumstances. But we both know how to evaluate the risks involved and are not fanatics. We also know how to take advantage of the good things in life. We have always put the family first and like going to Italy whenever we can.
We have many things in common. We both love animals and have two dogs at home. The most marked difference between us is the fact that I am not an intellectual. I didn't ever go to university and would be incapable of doing all Serge's research and writing. He has become an expert on the Final Solution, is very meticulous and can spend a whole night looking for the correct spelling of the name of a child who was deported. He still wants to broaden his cultural knowledge: he reads absolutely everywhere - at the dinner table, he'll read, eat and watch television all at the same time. Serge really believes that you should use every minute to the best advantage. !
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