These 70-Year-Old Nazi Hunters Just Took on France's Most Hated Comedian -- and Won

It looks like Europe's most famous Nazi-hunting family is back at it again, and this time, they're going after a different kind of opponent: the controversial French-Cameroonian comedian Dieudonné Mbala-Mbala, who most recently made headlines after French soccer star Nicolas Anelka used the comedian's trademark gesture, widely interpreted as a Nazi salute -- a reverse "Heil Hitler"-- and ignited a debate about anti-Semitism across Europe.

Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, a married couple now both in their seventies, have made a name for themselves over the past half-century going after Nazi war criminals who have escaped persecution. And though their Nazi-hunting days are over, along with their son, Arno, they called for a protest of a performance by Dieudonné in the French city of Nantes. On Jan. 7, a day before the planned show, the Nantes authorities announced that it was cancelled, making Nantes the third city after Bordeaux and Marseille to ban the comedian. French President François Hollande has also called on city authorities to prohibit Dieudonné's one-man show. 

Not that Dieudonné is going quietly. He enjoys the cover of comedy, huge success, and a fan base that is fiercely loyal to his shocking on-stage antics. Most of his shows at his regular Paris theater are sold out; his YouTube videos get millions of hits.

Since 2000, the comedian has been fined 65,000 euros for defamation, using insulting language, hate speech, and discrimination. On Friday, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls vowed to ensure that the comedian would have to pay the fines, which he has reportedly evaded thus far by placing his assets in his wife's name. "[Dieudonné] unites anti-Semites from all sides. They are Islamists, ultra-left or far-right.... His shows are anti-Semitic political rallies," Arno Klarsfeld told Agence France Press.

But though it's Dieudonné who's getting all the attention, it's the Klarsfelds who are far more interesting. They belong to a small club of professional Nazi hunters -- men and women who have dedicated their lives to tracing World War II criminals and bringing them to justice. And though they never quite reached the fame of the charismatic Simon Wiesenthal, the Klarsfelds' Nazi-hunting tactics have made them a subject of many a front-page headline over the years, landed them in court, and provoked attempts on their lives -- including a bomb placed in their car in 1979.

The star-crossed lovers -- Beate, a daughter of a Wermacht soldier, and Serge, whose father had perished in a concentration camp -- met in 1960. Their lifelong mission to track down Nazis began soon after.

In 1968, Beate famously slapped in the face Chancellor Kurt Kiesenger, a former Nazi who rose to power in post-war Germany. In 1973, Serge walked up to Kurt Lischka, a prominent SS commander and Gestapo chief and put a gun against his head. Eventually, Lischka was sentenced to 10 years in prison for war crimes. In their most famous hunt, after a failed attempt to kidnap Klaus Barbie, a Lyon Gestapo chief who was hiding in Bolivia, the Klarsfelds succeeded in tracking him down, getting him extradited to France and tried.

Since, Nazi hunting has become the family business. Since the 1980s, Serge and Beate have been working with their children Arno and Lida, both lawyers. (Arno, former aide to Nicolas Sarkozy and, perhaps awkwardly, ex-boyfriend of Carla Bruni, has been making headlines of his own, and has even been called a "darling of the French tabloids"). In one case, three members of the Nazi-hunting family presented evidence against a former war criminal.

The Klarsfelds have been widely recognized for being unrelenting in their mission to bring former Nazis to justice. On Jan. 1, Serge and Beate were named grand officer and commander of the French Legion of Honor, respectively.

The matriarch of the family, and arguably also its most daring member -- she had been arrested in at least 11 countries -- was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the state of Israel twice (the Klarsfelds are also known for being fiercely Zionist). In 1986, she was portrayed by Farah Fawcett in a TV film "The Beate Klarsfeld Story."

The Klarsfelds, who were both small children during World War II, are significantly younger than their Nazi prey. As nature took its course, and the only remaining Nazis became low-level prison guards -- now decrepit nonagenarians -- they adapted their lifelong mission. Today they focus on commemorating the fate of Jewish deportees from France and working with their children. In 2009, they told the BBC that after five decades, their hunt was over. 

And yet, just five years later, Dieudonné's anti-Semitic comedy and the rise in Nazi gestures on the soccer field have brought them back from retirement. With little effort, they've already made a popular comedian's life much harder. Dieudonné, brace yourself for a tough fight. 



Injured Al Jazeera Journalist Barred from Receiving Medical Care in Egypt

On Dec. 29, Egyptian authorities arrested Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Al Jazeera's Cairo bureau chief, and four other journalists, charging them with "harming national security" and "spreading false news." Nine days later, Fahmy, who is suffering from a dislocated shoulder, still has not received medical treatment.

"Mohamed is currently back to prison after he was interrogated 3 times. Still not allowed to go to the hospital," Mohamed's brother Sherif told Foreign Policy via Twitter. "We are not allowed to see or speak to him. Our only method of communication is through the lawyer."

Prior to joining Al Jazeera, Fahmy was a frequent contributor to FP, where his incisive coverage spanned from the military's scorched-earth campaign in the Sinai Peninsula, to the geopolitical implications of soccer hooliganism, to the trial of former dictator Hosni Mubarak.

The arrests, allegedly for conducting "illegal" interviews with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, come as Egypt's military-backed government is in the midst of an aggressive crackdown against Islamist and secular dissidents alike. Since the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi, a former member of the Brotherhood, in July, at least 1,000 of his supporters have been killed in clashes with security forces. Thousands more have been arrested.

On Dec. 25, authorities designating the Brotherhood a terrorist organization, a step the Qatari ambassador in Cairo slammed as a "prelude to a shoot-to-kill policy."

The crackdown on the Brotherhood has seen Egypt become an increasingly hostile environment for reporters, six of whom died in the line of duty in 2013. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Egypt is among the top 10 jailers of journalists.

Few media outfits have been worse affected than Al Jazeera. Long accused of sympathizing with the Brotherhood -- in part because of its host country's generous support for Morsi's government -- the Qatar-based media giant has been subjected to repeated raids and detentions. Fahmy, correspondent Peter Greste, and producer Baher Mohamed joined two other Al Jazeera employees in prison when they were arrested last week.

"Al Jazeera demands the immediate release of their journalists," the network said in a statement on Dec. 30. Elsewhere, it described the arrests as an "act designed to stifle and repress the freedom of reporting by the network and its journalists."

Fahmy, a dual Egyptian and Canadian citizen, is reportedly in considerable pain as a result of a shoulder injury sustained prior to his arrest. Authorities have refused to transfer him to a hospital, however, and his condition is "getting worse," according to his brother Sherif. 

Fahmy's brother also expressed frustration that the Canadian government has not done more to facilitate the journalist's release. According to the Globe and Mail, Canadian consular officials have been in touch with the Egyptian government "to gather more information," but Ottawa has yet to issue a statement demanding his release.

Last year, Canada's minister of state made repeated public appeals for the release of Canadian citizens John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, both of whom were detained in Egypt.

"[It] amazes us that not a single article was published saying that Canada is at least concerned about him," said Sherif. "Compare that to what the [C]anadian authorities have done for [T]arek [L]oubani."

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