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March 26, 2018 12:31 pm

French Authorities Investigating Antisemitic Motive Behind Brutal Murder of 85 Year-Old Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris

avatar by Ben Cohen

Mireille Knoll, the 85 year-old Holocaust survivor who was murdered in her Paris apartment. Photo: Knoll family.

The two men arrested by French police following the horrific murder of an elderly female Holocaust survivor — whose body was discovered on Friday evening with multiple stab wounds in her incinerated apartment in the 11th arrondissement of Paris — are being investigated for an antisemitic hate crime, the Paris prosecutor’s office announced on Monday.

French media outlets reported over the weekend that the two individuals had been arrested on Saturday, as the country’s Jewish community reacted with dismay and anger to the murder of 85-year-old Mireille Knoll the previous evening. Up to five fires were started in her apartment and the victim was also stabbed 11 times during the attack.

One of the two men arrested, a 29-year-old with previous criminal convictions, was identified by Mrs Knoll’s son as “someone my mother knew very well and considered a son,” Le Parisien reported. Another outlet, broadcaster France 3, said that Knoll had known the man over a period of twenty years since his childhood.

The second suspect is reported to be a 22-year-old homeless man known to the police for previous criminal offenses.

Knoll, who lived alone, had previously filed several police complaints against a local resident who had threatened to “burn” her.

French-Jewish parliamentarian Meyer Habib, who was in contact with the victim’s family over the weekend, confirmed on Monday that Knoll was a survivor of the July 1942 Vel d’Hiv roundup of French Jews by the Vichy authorities, thanks to the Brazilian passport of her mother.

Habib told Le Nouvel Observateur that the Knoll family had provided him with “a multitude of details” about the attack, “which I cannot make public at this stage.”

“The nightmare continues for French Jews,” Habib added pointedly.

The French-Jewish representative organization CRIF announced on Monday that it was calling a protest rally against the “odious murder” on Wednesday night. Demonstrators will gather at the Place De La Nation in Paris before marching to the Avenue Philippe-Auguste, the street where Knoll lived.

Bernard-Henry Lévy, one of France’s leading Jewish intellectuals, said on Monday that the nation had “failed” to protect Mrs Knoll.

“This horror cannot be suffered in silence,” Lévy said.

Meanwhile, Joel Mergui — the president of the Consistoire Central Israélite, a prominent religious organization — on Monday invoked the antisemitic murder in April 2017 of another Jewish pensioner, Sarah Halimi. Mergui warned against “reproducing the silence that followed the murder of Sarah Halimi in the same district (of Paris.)”

The killing of Halimi by an Islamist assailant who broke into her apartment, beat her and then ejected her from a third-floor window to her death was shrouded in silence for several weeks after it occurred. At the time, many French Jews blamed the absence of media coverage, along with the reluctance of the authorities to treat Halimi’s murder as a hate crime, on the widespread belief that doing so would have boosted the fortunes of the far-right presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen.

Le Pen was defeated in the April 2017 presidential election by centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron. Since his victory, Macron has strongly criticized the lack of sensitivity to the antisemitic character of Halimi’s murder on several occasions.

On a visit to Israel on Monday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was “reasonable to assume” that Mireille Knoll’s murder was motivated by antisemitism. Le Drian noted he had learned of Knoll’s death just after visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, describing it as a “very moving and difficult moment.”

“We will need to continue fighting against antisemitism,” Le Drian declared.

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