Two noted Nazi hunters appeared before reporters today to mark the American publication of an extraordinary volume that documents the personal histories of 80,000 Jews who were sent from France to Nazi death camps, apparently with the active support of French authorities.
Serge Klarsfeld, a French lawyer, said the records he pieced together over a period of years would be submitted as evidence in the forthcoming French trial of former Nazi Klaus Barbie, who is accused of war crimes.
The 704-page book, "Memorial to the Jews Deported from France--1942-1944," was published previously in Europe and is now available in this country.
At a news conference, Klarsfeld's wife, Beate, also described how she used a 30-year-old newspaper picture to track down Barbie in South America a decade ago, a discovery that eventually led Bolivia to expel the former top Gestapo officer in Feburary and turn him over to France.
Serge Klarsfeld said that 78 convoys traveled from France to the Auschwitz concentration camp between 1940 and 1944, carrying a human cargo that included Jews from 67 countries ranging from Ireland to Turkey as well as thousands of children separated from their parents.
The photographs, documents, and eyewitness accounts, he said, "are the only thing that remains from the fact that they were alive one day. The Germans wanted to destroy them without any proof that they were once alive, to destroy whole families.
"We wept quite a lot in the night when we were typing these names, when we saw the children who were deported. It was easier to try to catch a Barbie than to type these lists."
The couple's emotional news conferenece here, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, comes at a time when the United States and France are reexamining their role in protecting Nazi war criminals while using them for intelligence purposes.
The Justice Department is investigating charges that U.S. authorities shielded Barbie from arrest after World War II, helped him escape to Bolivia in 1951 and let him visit the United States on several occasions.
Barbie, 69, known as the "Butcher of Lyons," has been accused of responsibility for executing 4,000 people, torturing thousands more and deporting more than 7,500 French Jews to concentration camps.
Klarsfeld said the Nazis made four copies of the victims' names for their records. Three copies later were destroyed, but one survived, and Klarsfeld found it in an archive a few blocks from his office.
About 3,000 of the victims died in French holding camps before they could be turned over to the Germans, he said.
Klarsfeld is trying to contact the victims' American relatives, who could serve as plaintiffs at Barbie's trial. "We want to find the relatives of each child deported by Barbie, even a cousin, in order to show the Jewish people have not forgotten what happened," he said.
Beate Klarsfeld said her pursuit of Barbie began in 1971, when she convinced a young German prosecutor to reopen the then-dormant Barbie case. She said the prosecutor showed her a photograph of a German businessman named Klaus Altmann, then living in Bolivia, and said he believed the man to be Barbie.
Using a technique called anthropometry, which measures parts of the body, Klarsfeld compared that picture with a 1942 German newspaper picture of Barbie and confirmed that Altmann was actually the Nazi fugitive. Soon afterward, a German living in Peru saw the 1942 photo reprinted in a Lima newspaper. The German contacted her, confirmed that it was Altmann and said he held Bolivian citizenship but was then in Peru for a business conference. The Peruvian contact also confirmed that the first name and birth dates of Altmann's wife and children were the same as those of Barbie's family.
When the French government failed to act, Klarsfeld said, "I went to Lima alone, without bodyguards, although everyone said it was dangerous." Barbie eluded her and fled across the Bolivian border, but Klarsfeld followed him into Bolivia, where she held news conferences, harassed the authorities and was arrested several times.
But Bolivia refused all extradition requests until its military regime was replaced by a democratic government.
"For 10 years," Serge Klarsfeld said, "we had to wait."