The world’s best-known Nazi hunters, Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, will make a rare visit to Dallas Nov. 15 to accept SMU’s global 2018 Triumph of the Spirit Award, presented by the Embrey Human Rights Program in SMU Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.
The docents of the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance also will receive the award for their dedication to educating museum-goers about the history of the Holocaust and advancing human rights to fight prejudice, hatred and indifference.
“We want to recognize the bridge between those who led the effort to pursue justice on behalf of the victims of the Holocaust and those educators who are working to ensure that current and future generations will remember what can happen when people remain silent in the face of an assault on humanity and dignity,” said Rick Halperin, director of SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program.
The Triumph of the Spirit Award is a biennial award presented to Dallas-based and global human rights leaders in honor of their accomplishments, innovation and commitment to human rights. The dinner and celebration will begin at 6 p.m., Nov. 15, in the Mack Ballroom in Umphrey Lee Center, 3300 Dyer St., on the SMU campus. Sponsorship opportunities and tickets are available at Triumph of the Spirit Award.
Beate and Serge Klarsfeld have devoted their lives to tracking down Nazi war criminals living with impunity after WWII. Serge was just eight when the Gestapo arrived at his home in Nice, France, arresting his father and sending him to the Nazi Auschwitz death camp in Poland where Arno Klarsfeld died at age 39. This event framed the life’s work of the couple, whose research led to the discovery and arrest of war criminals like Klaus Barbee. Known as the “Butcher of Lyon.” Barbee, a Gestapo leader responsible for the death of as many as 25,000 people, mostly Jews, was living under an assumed name in Bolivia when he was arrested.
Through meticulous research, the couple also documented the names of 80,000 French and Belgium Jews deported from France between 1942 and 1944 in their book, Memorial to the Jews Deported From France. Most were sent to Auschwitz where they were killed on arrival.
At the ages of 79 and 82, Beate and Serge Klarsfeld have earned prestigious international awards for their activism, such as the French Legion of Honor and German Federal Order of Merit, but they have paid a steep price, with beatings, prison time and attempts on their lives. They describe their experiences in the memoir, Hunting the Truth, Memoirs of Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, published in English in March 2018. In one of the closing chapters Serge wrote, “We learned through experience that we were capable of raising ourselves higher than we ever thought possible. Our readers will see this and will, we hope, realize that they would be just as capable as we were if circumstances demanded it.”
The 73 volunteer docents at Dallas’ Holocaust Museum describe themselves as “upstanders” who, like the Klarsfelds, stand up to injustice instead of standing by. In 2017 they led more than 36,000 area students on tours of the museum’s permanent exhibit, which focuses on one day in the Holocaust, April 19, 1943, depicting events illustrating wartime heroism, Jewish resistance and the deadly costs of indifference. Tours are conducted for students in grades five through twelve as well as tours designed for area college students.
Docents have played a key role at the museum since its 1984 opening as one of the few Holocaust museums nationwide and the only Holocaust museum in North Texas and adjacent states Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. A new expanded museum is scheduled to open in September 2019 in Dallas’ West End.