Six decades after the end of the Holocaust, the prominent French Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld said this weekend that French Jews would be best off leaving the country.
"One of the lessons of the Holocaust is that even if you want to fight against a wave of anti-Semitism, the best [thing] is to leave if you can," Klarsfeld said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post during a visit to Israel.
At the same time, Klarsfeld, who lives in Paris, said that he does not expect there be a great wave of Jewish emigration from France to either Israel or the US because most French Jews are well off.
While clearly differentiating between the rise of Nazi power in the late 1930s and the situation in France today, Klarsfeld drew a direct parallel to the Holocaust, stating that history has proven it would have been best "had the Jews of Poland and the Jews of Austria left Europe when they could have."
Klarsfeld's remarks come on the heels of reports that the Jewish Agency was planning to launch a campaign to persuade French Jews to immigrate to Israel to escape a wave of anti-Semitism.
The French government reported earlier this month that it had recorded 180 incidents of attacks or threats against Jews or Jewish-owned property since the start of this year, attributed to an increasingly violent second- and third-generation Muslim population.
With six million Muslims and 600,000 Jews, France has both the largest Muslim and Jews populations in Europe.
Although the numbers fell last year, over 2,500 French Jews immigrated to Israel in 2002, double the number a year earlier and the most since 1967.
Klarsfeld, 68, escaped deportation to the death camps by hiding in a closet; he spent the decades following the war in Paris as the leading Nazi hunter in France.
In the interview, Klarsfeld said that, if anything, French Jews who were thinking of immigrating would likely prefer moving to the US, instead of to an Israel engulfed in nearly four years of Palestinian violence. He noted that the father of a French Jew stabbed by a Muslim assailant in Paris earlier this month told the French prime minister that he was going to ask the US Embassy for "political asylum" for his family.
In a bleak assessment of the future of French Jewry, the Nazi hunter said tensions between Muslims and Jews in France were only likely to get worse in the years ahead. "There will be an escalation of attacks [against Jews] in Europe, and especially in France," he predicted.
Klarsfeld noted that anti-Semitic attacks have been aggravated both by the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict which reaches the homes of French Muslims by inflammatory Mideast Arab TV stations accessible by satellite as well as by a French foreign policy, which Klarsfeld defines as "openly pro-Arab," and "years and years" of French public and media support for the Palestinian cause.
He added that while a quarter century ago, the bulk of Arab attacks against Jews in Europe came from terror emanating from the Middle East, the fear today is from radical Arab elements within Europe itself.
With a conflict that shows no signs of ending anytime soon, Klarsfeld opined that "things cannot improve" for the Jews living in France.
Klarsfeld, whose father died in Auschwitz, survived the Holocaust along with his mother and sisters. After the war, his mother sent him to an all-Christian boarding school in a small city just outside Paris, where, as a boy of 12, Klarsfeld recalls ditching school to go to a shop where newspapers telling of the establishment of the State of Israel were sold.
The short-lived, close relationship between France and Israel following the War of Independence until the Six Day War stemmed from troubles France was having with the Arabs at the time and not out of a real friendship with Israel, Klarsfeld said. "France was always anti-Zionist," he said.
Although he later would work on a kibbutz and came to Israel as a volunteer in the 1967 Six Day War, Klarsfeld concedes that with a very French education, which included the study of French Latin and Greek and literally no Jewish culture, he felt more at ease in France than anywhere else, which explains his decision not to live in Israel despite the Israeli citizenship he holds.
While Klarsfeld has made France his home, his 38-year-old son Arno, an attorney by profession, was in the news recently due to his decision to come to Israel to do an eight-month volunteer stint in the army. He is currently serving in the border police.
Over the last few years, Klarsfeld has been active in pressuring the Hungarian government to search for lists of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews deported and then killed by Nazis during the waning days of World War II.
Under mounting pressure, the Hungarian government earlier this month decided to establish a historical committee together with Yad Vashem to search for the long-sought lists, which Klarsfeld says (a Hungarian government report notwithstanding) he is certain were not destroyed.
Together with his wife, Beate, the Paris-based Klarsfeld has published similar lists of Jews deported from France and Belgium over the last decades.