French Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld has been awarded France's highest honour, the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour. His wife, Beate Klarsfeld, received the National Order of Merit.
The ceremony was led by President Emmanuel Macron. The French presidency said on October 9th that the intimate ceremony, in the presence of family and friends, was held the evening before at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris.
The couple has dedicated their lives to the fight against impunity for perpetrators of the Holocaust.
The Klarsfelds were instrumental in bringing to justice many important Nazi figures and collaborators that had gone into hiding. One of their best-known cases was that of Klaus Barbie, the former Gestapo officer known as the "Butcher of Lyons", which culminated in Barbie’s extradition to France in 1983 and his subsequent trial.
Beate Klarsfeld also made headlines when she publicly slapped the West German Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger in 1968. That slap was given as a reproach over Kiesinger’s Nazi past.
As reported by AP, Klarsfeld, 83, had already been decorated with a lower rank of the Legion of Honour in 2014. As a French Jew, he managed to escape the Gestapo in Nice in 1943. His father, Arno, was captured and deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where he later died.
In an introduction to a book about the couple, American journalist Peter Hellman, who has reported on the Klarsfelds since 1979, said that even though they are best known to the public as Nazi hunters this is a term “they're not fully comfortable with, since the restoration of the names and faces of the victims is more important to them than the punishment of the murderers.”