Germany’s 1,240-member federal assembly will soon elect a new president. The nominee of the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Greens, and Libertarians is Joachim Gauck, whose claim to fame was that he was a staunchly pro-Western town mayor when the eastern part of Germany constituted the German Democratic Republic. He was also a ringleader in the post-unification witch-hunts of people considered to have been too friendly to the GDR when they were citizens of that country.
The Left – the only federally elected party not invited to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s search for a consensus candidate – announced its candidate today: human rights activist Beate Klarsfeld.
The German head of state is a symbolic figure lacking real political power. The power to govern lies with the chancellor.
Singer Nina Hagen summed up the sentiment of many Germans this morning when she posted on Facebook: “The office of the federal president is superfluous, a feudal relic for authority-craving Germans.”
Officials in the GDR had apparently agreed. East Germany abolished the office in 1960.
Still, the German press regards the office as representative of the nation’s conscience. It is perhaps for this reason that The Left voted unanimously today to give its 120 votes to a woman with a reputation for tracking down Nazi war criminals around the world.
She has responded publically and gratefully to the party’s endorsement.
In 1966 Klarsfeld was fired from the Franco-German Youth office for writing in a French newspaper that then West German Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger “has earned a reputation in the lines of the brown shirts just as good as in those of the CDU.” (The CDU is the Christian Democratic Union, the then-chancellor’s party and the party of the current chancellor, Angela Merkel.)
During the Hitler years, Kiesinger was a leading official in the infamous Nazi propaganda ministry under Joseph Goebbels.
At the 1968 Christian Democratic Union’s national convention in Berlin, a journalist gave Klarsfeld his press pass. With a reporter’s notepad in hand, Klarsfeld walked onto the stage, called Chancellor Kiesinger a Nazi, and slapped him in the face.
That same evening Klarsfeld was sentenced to a year in prison in a mini-trial. Her sentence was later reduced to four months. Klarsfeld recently explained that she had to slap Kiesinger in the face because assaulting the chancellor any other way would not have had the same symbolic effect. The following year, Klarsfeld ran for Bundestag against Kiesinger as a direct candidate in his home district.
In 1971, Klarsfeld and her husband tried to kidnap Kurt Lischka and take him to France to be tried for the deaths of 76,000 French Jews.
For this, Klarsfeld would be sentenced to another two months in prison while the war criminal walked free until 1980.
In 1987, she managed to convince German prosecutors to try veteran Nazi Klaus Barbi as a war criminal.
In 1991, she fought to have war criminal Alois Brunner tried in Paris in absentia. Beate’s efforts were documented in the television movie Nazi Hunter: the Beate Klarsfeld Story, where she was played by Farrah Fawcett.
She is cofounder of the Sons and Daughters of Deported French Jews. Klarsfeld has been honored by three French presidents, but has remained a taboo figure in her native Germany ever since assaulting the chancellor.
The office of the federal presidency has been vacant since Christian Wulff resigned earlier this month amid a minor financial scandal.
Snubbed by Merkel, The Left decided last week to run its own candidate, just as it had done in 2010. The “Nazi Hunter” Klarsfeld will be the only candidate opposing “Stasi Hunter” Joachim Gauck.
The federal assembly convenes on March 18th to elect a president.
Photo: “Beate Klarsfeld (2nd from left) and Serge Klarsfeld (right) along with former concentration camp inmates during a demonstration of 2000 French Jews in Cologne, Germany, Jan. 31, 1980, for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals facing trial there. Banner in background reads “Justice for the Jews of France.” Protestors wear the striped uniforms they were forced to wear in the camps.” Herbert Knosowski/AP