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A ‘heroine of truth’: Nazi-hunting couple who tracked down Klaus Barbie honoured by Macron

Awards for Beate and Serge Klarsfeld come at a time of growing animosity in Germany towards German Jews and migrants

The holiday season is almost here but some younger Germans already have their summer party hit: L’Amour Toujours by Gigi d’Agostino.

In Germany 2024, though, the Italian DJ’s tune from 2000 has acquired an unofficial new singalong chorus: “Deutschland den Deutschen, Ausländer raus” – Germany for the Germans, foreigners out.

Last week a video popped up online of well-groomed 20-somethings on the exclusive holiday island of Sylt singing along, and making illegal Hitler salutes.

Within days most of those identified in the video had either apologised or lost their jobs – or both.


But the video opened the L’Amour Toujours sluice gates, with similar party footage from a beer tent in Lower Saxony, a wine festival in Rhineland-Palatinate and a beach party in Saxony.

Same song, same xenophobic chants, but it is the Sylt party people who have caught the imagination. The cheering was not by the usual skinhead or football fan suspects but privileged, Porsche-driving heirs, men and women, with jobs in law and tech firms and a taste for the good life.

Amid the hail of outrage and shame-filled apologies from those involved, though, opinion is divided on whether to view the incident as juvenile provocation or something more worrying.

When Beate Klarsfeld was their age, in the early 1960s, she had just moved from her native Berlin to Paris to work as an au pair – a brave move considering the Nazis had left the country just 15 years previously.

Soon she met her future husband Serge Klarsfeld, who had narrowly escaped a Gestapo deportation to Auschwitz, and the two worked on researching and exposing the fate of 76,000 deported French Jews.

Along the way they tracked down many former senior Nazis including Klaus Barbie, a Gestapo chief and the so-called “Butcher of Lyon”. They also located SS special commander and Holocaust planner Alois Brunner, whose deportations of 128,500 Jews in the war years included that of Serge’s father in Nice.

Beate Klarsfeld has been a household name in her native (West) Germany since November 1968 when she crashed the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party conference and delivered a mighty slap to its leader and then chancellor, Kurt Kiesinger.

A trained lawyer, Kiesinger joined the Nazi party in 1933 and worked in the foreign ministry propaganda section before rising through the CDU ranks in postwar West Germany to become its third chancellor.

After the slap, Klarsfeld was arrested and put on trial the same day, telling the court she was “hitting back, in the name of the 50 million [war] dead and future generations, the repellent face of 10 million Nazis”. Her sentence for assault was never enforced, in part due to huge public protest.

On Tuesday, Beate and Serge Klarsfeld were awarded France’s highest civilian orders personally by President Emmanuel Macron during his state visit to Germany.

Macron described the work of Beate and Serge, now 85 and 88, as a “commitment against forgetting and impunity”.

Beate Klarsfeld’s Kiesinger attack was, he said, “a wake-up call that made you a heroine of truth”.

“This slap struck a face but also a conscience, it shook an order based on oblivion and impunity,” said Macron.

The Klarsfelds’ work also forced his homeland, Macron added, to acknowledge “the complicity of the French authorities in the arrest of foreign and stateless Jews”.

Accepting her award, Klarsfeld expressed concern that “young people don’t know the history any more”.

Amid a charged atmosphere in Germany, and growing animosity towards German Jews and migrant communities, chancellor Olaf Scholz described the Sylt chants as “disgusting”.

His Social Democratic Party, in a spin on the original chant, posted on Instagram: “Germany for Germans who defend democracy.” After protests, the post was deleted.