Serge and Beate Klarsfeld wearing Order of Merit medal
Serge and Beate Klarsfeld wearing Order of Merit medal Reuters

At a ceremony held by the German embassy in Paris on Monday, the German government awarded medals of honor to Jewish lawyer Serge Klarsfeld and his German wife Beate, who have relentlessly hunted down Nazi war criminals for many dozens of years.

The two, who have been vocal supporters of Israel, were given the German Order of Merit for their work, in an act of recognition that joins the French Legion of Honor they received in 1984.

The Klarsfeld couple has tracked down numerous Nazis in hiding, prime among them Klaus Barbie who was dubbed the "Butcher of Lyon" for his atrocities against Jews in the French city where he was chief of the Nazi Gestapo.

After the couple found Barbie, he was extradited from Bolivia in 1983 and handed a life sentence.

Another act of justice and courage by the pair came in 1968, when Beate famously slapped the cheek of then-German Chancellor Kurt Kiesinger right in the middle of a political rally, just after she denounced him for being a member of the Nazi party before World War II.

Beate, the daughter of a Wehrmacht regular soldier, met Serge at a Metro station in 1963 while in Paris working as an au pair.

After he told her about his harrowing hiding from the Nazis following his father's murder at the Auschwitz death camp, the two vowed to catch Nazi criminals and bring them to justice together.

“We are always working and always together,” Serge told the British Guardian in May.

Their work has not been without challenges, however. The two have been jailed, once for two months when they tried to kidnap Kurt Lishka, a Gestapo chief in Paris and SS Lieutenant Colonel responsible for the deportation of 75,000 from Nazi-occupied France.

They had planned to abduct him from Germany and bring him to France to stand trial, but police arrested them as they were trying to stuff the former Gestapo chief into the trunk of a car.

However, thanks to their efforts Lishka was eventually arrested in Cologne and sentenced to ten years in 1980. He was released early on health grounds and died in a nursing home in 1989.

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