French Jewish groups are demanding protests and action after reports that an elderly Jewish woman was murdered in an alleged anti-Semitic attack in Paris.
Jewish leaders are calling for French politicians and citizens to reaffirm their commitment to fighting anti-Semitism after the killing of Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, last Friday. Some are calling on allies to participate in a silent march on Wednesday in Paris in memory of the grandmother and other recent French victims of anti-Semitism.
“We need more people to feel moved, concerned, and therefore take an active part in this fight,” Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, director of the advocacy group American Jewish Committee (AJC) in Europe, wrote in an op-ed for HuffPost France. “When anti-Semitic violence grows, democracy is at stake.”
Knoll was reportedly stabbed 11 times during the attack inside her Paris apartment on Friday. Her body was partly burned after the attackers tried to set her home on fire, The New York Times reported.
Two men have been arrested in connection to the killing and face preliminary charges of murder with anti-Semitic motives, according to The Associated Press.
The woman’s son, Daniel Knoll, said that his mother had known one of the suspects for a long time and often invited him into her home against the advice of her children.
“My mother had a thirst for knowledge and meeting new people and talking to them and that’s what killed her,” he told the AP.
Some Jewish leaders reflected on the tragic irony of Knoll’s death, which came decades after the woman fled the Holocaust. In 1942, a then-9-year-old Knoll narrowly escaped being deported to a Nazi concentration camp with thousands of other Parisian Jews. Knoll was able to escape the mass arrest, which became known as the Vel d’Hiv roundup, with the help of a family member with Brazilian citizenship, the AP reported. The family fled to Portugal. Knoll returned to her home country after the end of World War II.
Nearly all those who were arrested during the roundup ― more than 13,000 people ― were murdered at Auschwitz.
Francis Kalifat, head of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), an umbrella group for French Jewish organizations, said Knoll was “absolutely massacred.”
“This makes one feel something absolutely terrible,” Kalifat told The New York Times. “She escaped the anti-Semitism of the Nazis, but in the end her destiny followed her because she was killed because of anti-Semitism.”
France’s Grand Rabbi, Haïm Korsia, said he was “horrified” by Knoll’s death. He compared the murder to that of another Jewish woman in the same Paris arrondissement, Sarah Halimi, last April. The 65-year-old Orthodox Jewish woman was assaulted and thrown out of a window by a suspect of Malian origin. It took months for French prosecutors to classify Halimi’s murder as an anti-Semitic attack.
“The horror of crime and the violence of the murderers are identical and remind us of the negative side of humanity,” Korsia wrote in a tweet.
France’s Jewish communities have grown increasingly concerned about safety in recent years. In 2015, four people were killed during an attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris. Nearly 8,000 French Jews reportedly moved to Israel in the year after this attack.
In 2012, three children and a teacher were murdered outside a Jewish school in Toulouse.
Anti-Semitic violence in France increased by 26 percent in 2017, while criminal damage to Jewish synagogues and cemeteries increased by 22 percent, according to a national study.
Marc Knobel, a historian at CRIF, told The Local France that the deaths of Halimi and Knoll have contributed to a “great feeling of fear and insecurity” in Jewish communities.
“People are extremely shocked and very worried,” he said.
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo called on Parisians to join Wednesday’s silent march in honor of Knoll. A wide array of French politicians have promised to attend, the AP reported.
In a tweet, French President Emmanuel Macron said he was appalled by Knoll’s murder and expressed his “absolute determination to fight against anti-Semitism.”
Rodan-Benzaquen, director of AJC Europe, said that while these declarations for politicians help French Jews “feel less lonely,” more needs to be done by French citizens and society at large. She called on all Parisians to march on Wednesday for “our assassinated grandmother.”
“Many French Jews believe that while they have tried to warn their fellow citizens that this hatred will spread and ultimately attack French people everywhere, only few have listened,” she wrote.