Nazi Hunting: A Love Story by Jess McHugh

What a timely short read for these ages! I’m so glad I had to chance to pick this up, to be reminded that fighting fascism isn’t just about wars and polls, but is an ongoing, everyday, and very necessary struggle.

Serge Klarsfeld and Beate Kunzel met in Paris in 1960. The young adults — he a law student, she an au pair from Germany — fell in love, marrying three years later despite the discouragement of several of Serge’s friends, who feared the worst from the prospect of a Romanian-born French Jew marrying a German woman. In fairness to their concerns, Beate had known little of her country’s historical extermination of millions of Jews. Serge proved to be her introduction to the extent of Nazi atrocities, stoking the fires that already burned in her against injustice.

Their career as Nazi hunters begins in earnest in 1966, when they learn that the new Chancellor of Germany, Kurt Georg Kiesinger, was a former Nazi. He wasn’t just a rank and file member either, but had worked as a deputy director under Joseph Goebbels to churn out anti-Semitic propaganda. Beate was determined to highlight his crimes. At first, she printed articles and brochures to denounce him, but when these proved less than effective, decided that civil disobedience would draw more eyeballs to her cause. Her efforts not only got people talking, but were a significant reason for his failed bid for reelection.

As emboldened by this success as they were appalled by the growing number of former Nazis they discovered living perfectly ordinary day-to-day lives post-World War II, the Klarsfelds made it their mission to bring murderers and war criminals to justice. But as the years passed and their successes mounted, their attention was drawn to the lives of so many people, especially children, who were consumed by the cruelty of the Holocaust. With their son Arlo joining them in the family business once he’d become an adult and a lawyer like his father, the Klarsfeld’s efforts turned just as much to commemorating the lives of victims as it was to holding their murderers accountable.

Jess McHugh expertly condenses the biography of the Klarsfelds into this accessible short book, occasionally providing wry and unobtrusive commentary on the necessity of their efforts given how fascism continues to flourish today. While it is a love story, as the subtitle states, the most emotionally powerful parts of this book came from the retelling of histories of valor, as brave souls such as Lea Feldblum and Serge’s own father did their best to protect the vulnerable. I cried, even as I was heartened by the thought that the courageous exist not only in times of conflict but also in times of peace, to pursue justice for those who could no longer cry out for it themselves.

This moving quick read is an excellent reminder to fight fascism in all its forms, and to not take false comfort in silence. Ms McHugh bring real history to life, profiling some of the bravest among us and inspiring new generations to keep up the fight against injustice.

Nazi Hunting: A Love Story by Jess McHugh was published March 13 2024 by Everand.

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