THE MAKEUP ARTIST ARRIVED AT BEATE
Klarsfeld's apartment, on the western
edge of Paris, before dawn. Hers was a
small but crucial role in KJarsfeld's mis-
sion, starting that morning, to force Syria
to give up 79-year-old Alois Brunner—the
last major Nazi criminal on Earth who
was still alive, free, and unpunished.
a charter mem- BEATE KLARSFELD TRIES TO EMBARRASS
ber of Adolf Eichmann's S.S. deportation
team. Between 1941 and 1944, he sent at
least 120,000 lews to Auschwitz. His spe-
was to deport SYRIA INTO GIVING UP ALOIS BRUNNER,
the very old and the very young. Eich-
mann called him "one of my best men."
On the lam after the war, Eichmann
and other ma-
jor Nazi crimi- ONE OF ADOLF EICHMANN'S "BEST MEN'
nals chose to hide in South America. BEATE KLARSFELD
Brunner made a cannier choice. Taking READIES FOR
the name George Fischer, he went to Syr- SYRIAN ACTION.
ia. He settled into a comfortable apart-
ment at 7 Haddad Street, in an expensive
section of Damascus. By luck or cunning
he couldn't have picked a more hospitable
spot. Syria has always faithfully pro-
JEWS SEIZED IN PARIS ARRIVING AT PITHIVIERS CONCENTRATION CAMP IN FRANCE.
THE APARTMENT BUILDING IN DAMASCUS WHERE BRUNNER LIVED FOR YEARS.
tected him—and perhaps used his crimi- Many are outraged that Nazi criminals election, as he was about to give a speech.
nal expertise. But Hafez Assad's govern- go unpunished. Few do anything about She and her husband had uncovered Kie-
ment has been far less hospitable to Beate it—especially if their action must take singer's Nazi past. Germany couldn't rid
Klarsfeld. The last time she attempted to place in a hostile police state ruled by a itself of old Nazis, Beate reasoned, but it
enter Syria to protest its hosting of Brunner, leader as ruthless as Hafez Assad. The didn't have to re-elect one as chancellor.
in the spring of 1987, she was not allowed only private Nazi hunters to emerge in the After the much-publicized slap, Kiesinger
to leave the airport. aftermath of the' Third Reich have been was unseated by Willy Brandt, who had
This time, Klarsfeld had prepared a dar- Simon Wiesenthal, Beate Klarsfeld, and been driven out of Germany by the Nazis.
ing ploy. She'd persuaded a Parisian friend. her husband, Serge. He is the French Jew- The Klarsfelds readily credit Wie-
Gertrude Baer, to apply for a Syrian tourist ish son of a father killed at Auschwitz. senthal with having first sniffed out
visa and then hand over her passport to her. She is the Berlin-born, Lutheran daughter "George Fischer" in Damascus in the late
But Trudy Baer is a 65-year-old brunette, of a Wehrmacht soldier. fifties. But proving that Fischer was really
while Beate Klarsfeld is a 52-year-old red- They met in 1960 on a Metro platform Brunner would be more difficult.
head. The makeup artist's challenge, this in Paris—just a few steps from the modest They turned first to the dossier pre-
past December 5, was to make them look apartment they now occupy on the Place pared for Brunner's 1954 war-crimes trial
the same. Or at least similar enough to let de la Porte de St. Cloud. Serge was ready in absentia in France, at which he was
Klarsfeld pass Syrian airport scrutiny. to start law school; Beate was an au pair sentenced to death. Papers showed that
She did her job well. I failed to recognize whose father was sure she'd end up a Brunner had been an early member of the
Klarsfeld among the arriving passengers at prostitute if she left Berlin for Paris. They Nazi Party, joining in 1931. Eichmann
Damascus airport at seven-thirty that eve- married in 1963—and since 1966 have had hired him in Vienna in 1938. Brunner
ning—even though I've known her for thir- devoted themselves to bringing Nazi crim- started by deporting Austrian lews. Then,
teen years and expected her to be disguised. inals to justice. If this sounds like the plot in 1942, he did the same in Berlin. After
Not a strand of red hair peeked out from of a made-for-TV movie, it's because that came the unspeakable extinction of
under her mousy brown wig. Makeup made there was one in 1986, starring Farrah the Salonika Jews—whole trainloads of
her face seem to sag. Normally a crisp, styl- Fawcett as Beate and Tom Conti as Serge. whom arrived at Auschwitz already dead
ish dresser, she wore a shapeless car coat from lack of water. In 1943, Brunner be-
over baggy slacks. Her black-framed glasses S NAZI HUNTERS, THE KLARS- came commander of the Drancy transit
were identical to the ones Baer wore in her felds don't like being com- camp outside Paris and deported 23,500
passport photo. pared to Wiesenthal. They more, including newborns.
Klarsfeld whispered my name from a point out that, even in his As the Allies pushed nearer to liberat-
few inches away. Only then did I realize prime, Wiesenthal was con- ing Paris in August 1944, Brunner kept
who it was. Her dark eyes sparkled at her tent merely to collect docu- right on working. The very last train of
having fooled passport control—and me. mentation. They do that— Germans to leave the city included a rear
She kept right on walking. We'd agreed but they also put their bodies car filled with Jewish deportees that Brun-
not to acknowledge each other in public on the line. Serge once crashed a neo-Nazi ner had arranged for at the last moment.
while in Syria. Her job was to protest the gathering in a Munich beer hall and was A month earlier, when adult victims had
presence of Brunner—and, if possible, to pummeled for announcing that he was a become scarce, he'd sent 300 children to
be arrested. My job, in a country where jew. In 1968, Beate darted between body- Auschwitz.
independent journalists are unwelcome, guards and slapped West German chan- Then, at Eichmann's bidding, he pushed
was to be Klarsfeld's witness. cellor Kurt Kiesinger, then running for re- on to Slovakia, where he deported another
30 NEW YORK/JANUARY 13, 1992
14,000. In 1989. historian Mary Felstiner through. In 1980, he received a parcel wouldn't mean much unless it could be
wrote, "Brunner's policy, his practice, from Vienna. There was no reason to be reported.
and his personality constituted one unit, suspicious. It bore the name of an herbal- Syria controls visiting journalists close-
with no preoccupation but genocide." medicine catalogue that Brunner had writ- ly. I turned in my old passport, with its
ten for. But the package exploded, injur- offending Israeli visas, for a new one.
N 1977, SERGE KLARSFELD WENT TO ing Brunner's left eye. The Klarsfelds Then I applied for a Syrian tourist visa.
Vienna and hired a private detective think the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence For religion, I put "Methodist"—proba-
to gather information about Brun- agency, sent the bomb. The Mossad had bly safer than the actual "Jewish." (1 had
ner's wife and daughter, who were already sent Brunner a letter bomb in graduated from Methodist-affiliated Duke
still living in the city. Then he hired a 1961, the year Eichmann was tried in Je- University.) For profession, I wrote "con-
second detective to be sure the first rusalem. That one cost Brunner four fin- tributing editor."
wasn't in cahoots with the family. gers on his left hand. I arrived in Damascus on December 4,
Out of that investigation came a cru- Brunner has grown old. But he remains one day before Klarsfeld and just after
cial phone number in Damascus. From as unrepentant as the young S.S. Haupt- Hafez Assad won his fourth seven-year
the Klarsfelds' living room in Paris, Beate sturmfuhrer (captain) who liked to lash term as Syrian president. It was hard to
dialed it. Here is a translation of the con- his victims with a leather horsewhip laced see how the driver of the airport bus could
versation, as she remembers it, that she with iron wire. He told reporters from the know where he was going, since every
had in her native German with the man German magazine Bunte, who managed window, including his own, was plastered
who answered: to interview and photograph him in 1985, with pictures of Assad. Multiple portraits
"Herr Brunner?" that he'd do it all over again. "I don't re- were strung across the streets and covered
"No, Herr Fischer." gret getting rid of all that garbage," he every wall—Assad watching paratroop-
"Excuse me. You don't know me, but the said. Unlike Eichmann, he insisted, he'd ers, Assad's face bursting out of a red
father of a friend of mine worked with you never be taken alive. He produced a cya- flower, Assad portrayed like a Greek Or-
in Berlin during the war. He's a special nide pill from his shirt pocket to prove it. thodox saint. His portrait was even super-
prosecutor now. He asked me to warn you Two years later, he told a Chicago Sun- imposed on a painting of Saladin's troops
of a new Interpol warrant for your arrest. If Times reporter in a brief phone interview routing the Crusaders eight centuries ago.
you leave Syria, they'll get you for sure." that "the lews deserved to die because The only image missing was that of Assad
There was a pause. Then, in a softer tone, they were agents of the Devil." as protector of old Nazis.
"Herr Fischer" said, "Thank your friend The next night at nine o'clock, I slipped
from me for this warning. God bless him. IX MONTHS AGO, I ASKED THE into Klarsfeld's room, three floors below
And God bless you, my dear." Klarsfelds if they'd given up my own, at the five-star Chain Palace Ho-
The ruse had worked. their efforts to bring Brunner to
tel. Already on hand was Dominique Ri-
Brunner is reported to have been a se- justice. Not in the least. In fact,
zet, a young French photojournalist for
curity adviser to the Syrian government they were looking for somebody the newspaper France-Soir who'd been
long before Hafez Assad came to power in who at least faintly resembled enlisted to take photos. Like me, he'd en-
1970. He's said to have invented a torture Beate who'd be willing to do- tered Syria on a tourist visa. His job
machine—a variant on the medieval rack. nate her passport to the effort wouldn't be easy. The previous day* I'd
But the only verifiable facts about him are against Brunner. They didn't have to look raised my camera to take a photo of an
that until this fall he was walking his dogs far. Gertrude Baer, whose father had been Assad portrait display on a public street
in Zanoubia Park each morning and shot by the Nazis and whose mother and only to have armed men appear from
armed guards were posted in
the hall of his third-floor apart-
ment and outside the building.
It also appears that he didn't
have to worry about money. IMAGES OF HAFEZ ASSAD DOMI-
In January 1990, Serge Klars-
feld managed to slip into Da-
mascus. He delivered a letter to NATED THE DAMASCUS STREETS.
the government setting out the
case against Brunner. The Syri- SO DID YOUNG MEN WIELDING
ans replied by expelling Klars-
feld from the country. Neither
he nor his wife could expect to
enter Syria again. Not, at least,
UZI-STYLE G U N S . —
under the name Klarsfeld.
The couple had had better luck with sister had been killed in the concentration two directions to wave me away.
other Nazis. By getting the press to cover camps, said she'd do it. Klarsfeld's plan was simple: She'd hoist
their cases, they forced the joint trial, in This seemed a propitious time for Syria a placard of protest in front of Assad's
1979, of the three highest-ranking S.S. to turn over a new leaf. Its military spon- presidential palace and be swiftly arrest-
men who had been active in France and sor, the USSR, was no more. Assad has ed. Et voila! A Nazi remains free while a
were then living unpunished in West Ger- tried to cultivate a better image in the lone woman merely calling for justice is
many. One of them was Gestapo chief West—working belatedly to free the hos- jailed. It's a technique meant to play to the
Kurt Lischka. In 1986, the Klarsfelds fi- tages held in Lebanon. He would also like, public's sense of fairness. Klarsfeld has
nally saw Klaus Barbie brought to justice, no doubt, to be taken off the U.S.'s short- used it successfully before—notably in
fourteen years after Beate had located him list of states that sponsor terrorism. Rid- 1973, when she was jailed for five weeks
living in La Paz, Bolivia. But their success- ding himself of Alois Brunner could only in Germany for attempting to "kidnap"
es depended on a moral response from help his cause. Kurt Lischka, then a Cologne business-
host governments. None was forthcoming Serge Klarsfeld asked if I wanted to be man. Lischka ended up spending many
from Syria. a witness to his wife's impending action in more than five weeks in jail.
The Klarsfelds could not reach Brunner Syria—assuming she got in. Whatever she Kneeling now on the floor of her over-
behind his Syrian shield. But the mail got had up her sleeve for Damascus, it heated hotel room, Klarsfeld printed her
Photographs by Peter H e l m a n . JANUARY 13, 1992/NEW YORK 31
message—in French—with a black mark- The Foreign Ministry, farther back confusing was Klarsfeld's German pass-
er on poster paper: along Hanano Street, seemed at first like a port (her real one). No matter how many
possible site for Klarsfeld's one-woman times they riffled its pages, they could find
demonstration. The guard in front wore no entry visa, a plain impossibility. Every
99.98% OF THE VOTES ARE NOT ENOUGH
blue pants, a white jacket, and big epau- foreigner must have an entry visa.
EXTRADITE THE NAZI CRIMINAL
lets heavy with gold fringe. He'd be most Taking Klarsfeld by both arms, the police
photogenic dragging away a protesting escorted her across the avenue to a small
LIBERATE THE JEWS
woman. But armed men all around would camera shop. By this time, Rizet was al-
have also pounced on Rizet and his ready turning the corner at the end of the
Finding the palace proved difficult. Leav- camera. block. He would pick up his bags at the ho-
ing the hotel separately at ten-thirty that While I was exploring Hanano Street, tel and head directly to the airport for a
evening, the three of us flagged a cab a Klarsfeld and Rizet were lunching at a twelve-thirty flight to Paris—with his film.
block from the hotel. "Give us a tour of the downtown hotel. From the window, they In the camera store, the police used the
high spots of Damascus." we told the driv- noticed an ideal spot for her protest: the phone to call their superiors. Then they
er. "Especially the presidential palace." imposing, elegantly classical Interior Min- took Klarsfeld back to the police car.
The cabbie gladly showed us doctors istry. Bunting in the national colors Twenty minutes later, a relief car arrived.
and nurses dancing in front of their hospi- draped its entrance on Al-Malek Farouk I watched-as, bundled between two po-
tal to celebrate (perhaps not voluntarily) Avenue, which was busy and wide enough licemen in the back seat, with two more in
the re-election of Hafez Assad. But he got to allow Rizet to snap away unnoticed— front, she was driven off.
jittery when we pressed him to see the pal- particularly in the first few seconds after I returned to my hotel room and dialed
ace. He claimed not to be sure where it Klarsfeld hoisted her placard. Serge Klarsfeld's home in Paris. On his an-
was. Still, he did whisk us past a heavily A red police station wagon manned by swering machine I left word that his wife
guarded side street in the northwestern three cops was always in front of the Inte- had been arrested, knowing that he'd relay
section of town, where Assad and most of rior Ministry, and the sidewalk was that information to the media. Then I
the diplomatic community live. blocked to pedestrians. Klarsfeld would walked to the German embassy, as I'd
" J u s t t r y to go down t h a t street have to cross over from the far side of the promised his wife, and left a note saying,
and. . . . " He finished the sentence by avenue directly in front of the police car. "A German woman I met at the Cham Pal-
making machine-gun noises while draw- Then she'd hoist her poster while Rizet, ace Hotel said that she expected to be ar-
ing an imaginary knife across his throat. also walking on the far side of the avenue. rested this morning and might need your
assistance. She said her name is
HAD NO IDEA WHERE
THREE COPS LEAPT OUT OF THE K l a r s f e l d was, but it
seemed likely that if she
POLICE CAR. TAKING KLARSFELD were returned to the hotel
rather than jailed, it
wouldn't be for hours. So
BY BOTH ARMS, THEY ESCORTED I walked south, across the
River, into old Damascus, and
HER ACROSS THE AVENUE.—— wandered through the big, bus-
tling Al-Hamidiya souk.
At one o'clock, four hours
The next morning, we tried to persuade snapped pictures through an opening in after Klarsfeld's arrest, room 538 still did
another cabdriver to take us to the presi- his raincoat, like a flasher. not answer. I went walking again, this
dential palace. But he flatly refused to go Klarsfeld left the hotel at 8:45 the next time to Zanoubia Park, across from Brun-
anywhere near it: Syrians may love their morning. Left behind in her room was the ner's home. Young Syrian couples took
leader, but only from a safe distance. brown wig, which made her head itch; the up most of the benches. Their courting re-
Many of the 4,000 or so Syrian Jews hotel kept Trudy Baer's passport. Rizet minded me of Orthodox Jewish couples in
would like to put even more distance be- and I were already outside, waiting to ren- Brooklyn's Prospect Park—sedate, with
tween themselves and Assad. But he re- dezvous with her under a five-story por- no kissing and only fleeting touches.
fuses to allow them to emigrate freely. trait of Assad on busy Alazmeh Square. The guards no longer patrolled at 7
Rizet had wrapped his head in a kaffiyeh Haddad Street. According to a Syrian
ATER THAT MORNING, I WALKED he'd bought in the souk to make him look friend of the Klarsfelds', Brunner had
alone to the end of Hanano less like a Parisian. been removed by ambulance from his
Street, where, according to the Striding in front of the red police car at apartment in October. His current where-
map, the palace was located. The 8:55, Klarsfeld held herself proudly. A abouts are unknown.
street is lined with embassies and slight smile came over her face. If Dela- At four o'clock, Klarsfeld was finally
large private homes. Young men croix had painted a Nazi huntress instead back in her hotel room. "I forgot to give
wearing jeans and wielding Uzi- of Liberty leading the people, she'd have you back your pen last night" was the first
style guns or two-way radios been his model. She unfurled the poster thing she said, poking in her bag for it.
looked me over as I walked along. Twice I from beneath her coat and held it up in "Never mind the pen. Tell me what
was stopped (politely) to have my brief- front of the police car like a toreador bait- happened," I said.
case searched. At last I came to the presi- ing the bull. She didn't know what building the po-
dential palace, a modern building behind The three cops leapt out and surround- lice had taken her to, only that the offices
a high fence. No flags waved in front of it; ed her. Others dashed over from the min- were filthy, the bathrooms indescribable.
it didn't appear official enough for Beate's istry gate as Rizet snapped away. Her sign She'd been interrogated at length by a se-
protest. Besides, even if she managed to confused them. None appeared able to curity officer speaking perfect French.
unfurl her poster there, Rizet would never read French. And if they could, they prob- She explained her mission simply: Syria
be able to get away with using his camera. ably drew a blank on Brunner. Even more must stop protecting Alois Brunner, the
32 New YORK/JANUARY 13, 1992
last major Nazi criminal at
large. He must be delivered
"No criminal is here,"
the interrogator retorted.
"The criminals are in Israel,
where they kill Palestinians
Klarsfeld handed him a
f u l l dossier on Brunner.
"Please read it," she said.
"And please arrange for me
to see President Assad so
that 1 can explain to him
why it is in Syrian interests
as well as in the interests of
justice to expel Brunner."
She was surprised to see
that her interrogator also
had a dossier on her, includ-
ing articles from the Beirut
press. He chastised her for
entering the country under
a false name.
"I'd have preferred to use AFTER THE PROTEST. A WELCOME FROM BEATE'S HUSBAND. SERGE. BACK B PARIS.
my own passport," Klars-
feld answered. "But then you'd have husband had once answered the same sured the Klarsfelds in private that he
barred me. What choice did I have? Don't question bluntly. "Syria protects Brun- would pursue the matter, this was the first
make me the criminal here." ner," said Serge, "because Assad must time he'd gone public.
Klarsfeld was then taken to the offices like having around an old Nazi who killed That announcement didn't sit well with
of a Syrian army general. She again de- so many Jews." Syria. It abruptly canceled Dumas's meet-
manded the expulsion of Brunner. The I returned to Paris early the next morn- ing with Assad. Once again, the Syrians
general's response was to order her placed ing. Hours later, Klarsfeld was summoned insisted that the war criminals—notably,
under hotel arrest until further notice. to the hotel lobby with her luggage. Secu- Ariel Sharon—were in Israel. This diplo-
Hours of Syrian interrogation couldn't rity officers drove her directly to the air- matic contretemps, the Syrians grumbled,
have been fun, but Klarsfeld seemed un- port, even though she'd hoped to have an was the fault of the Klarsfelds. The couple
fazed by the experience. Only the ride interview with Assad. "The president has took it as a compliment. (The Syrians
back to the hotel, escorted by the French- no time," she was told, "because he is so stand to lose $ 172 million in aid from the
speaking security officer in a chauffeur- busy receiving congratulations on his re- European Community, which has formal-
driven Peugeot, had bothered her. election." ly requested Brunner's extradition.)
"He drove much too fast," she said. "1 She was confined in a hotel overnight
was really frightened." before being put on a two-stop Syrian Air T SUMMER'S END IN 1943,
She stayed in her room that evening, flight to Paris. Her own German passport Adolf Eichmann sent a Son-
content to wash her itchy scalp now that had been returned to her. Trudy Baer's derkommando team to Nice
she no longer had to wear the wig. I passport, she was told, would be returned to arrest lews. Heading that
brought her a spicy lamb schwarma from to its rightful owner. team was "best man" Brun-
a food shop near the hotel. She didn't She smiled broadly as some 50 mem- ner, then the commander of
have much appetite. If the Syrians had bers of the press surrounded her that eve- the Drancy transit camp.
treated her less courteously, she'd have ning at Orly Airport. Serge Klarsfeld Among those arrested during
been happier. That would have made kissed her in the glare of TV lights and brutal sweeps of hotels and homes on the
Brunner's privileged situation seem all the then stood to the side while she was inter- night of September 30 was Arno Klars-
more unfair. It did cheer her up to watch viewed. In the privacy of the taxi that took feld. He'd gone to the door to meet the
the evening news from Paris; it reported them home, he held her hand tightly. Gestapo, so that they wouldn't look for
accurately that she was confined to her It was almost ten o'clock when the fam- his wife, daughter, and eight-year-old son,
Damascus hotel after having been de- ily's two collies leapt up to lick Beate. She Serge, hiding in terror behind a false clos-
tained for demonstrating against Alois examined her husband's shirts, draped et wall. Arno Klarsfeld was murdered at
Brunner. over a chair, to see which needed wash- Auschwitz.
At eleven o'clock that evening, Klars- ing. Then she put on her apron and made Almost 50 years later, Beate Klarsfeld
feld had an unexpected visitor: Chris dinner from leftovers, just like any woman raised a poster against Brunner for a few
Hedges, the energetic young New York arriving home late from work. Except that seconds in Damascus. It was a small ges-
Times Cairo bureau chief who was in Da- for her, work wasn't quite over. The BBC ture whose only power lay in the force of
mascus to cover the final chapter of the called at eleven o'clock for a radio its message—reported more thoroughly in
hostage drama. He'd known n o t h i n g interview. Europe than in the U.S. Time is short, but
about Klarsfeld until a Syrian contact Earlier that day, a spokesman at the because of her lone act of courage Alois
tipped him off "at great personal danger." Syrian embassy in Paris had again denied Brunner may yet be called to answer for
What did it say about the Assad govern- the presence of Alois Brunner in his coun- his crimes.
ment, Hedges asked, that it continued to try. But the denial had a hollow ring. And "We don't care about revenge," the
harbor a criminal like Brunner? Roland Dumas, the French foreign minis- Klarsfelds said the morning after Beate's
The question invited pontification. ter, had announced that when he visited return from Damascus. "We just don't
Klarsfeld is more comfortable with facts, Syria later in the month, Brunner would want Brunner to die knowing he got away
and she hesitated to answer directly. Her be on his agenda. While Dumas had as- with his crimes." ^
Photograph by Ilhami Uncuoglu/Sipa. JANUARY 13, 1992/NEW YORK 33