Thousands Gather in Paris Tribute to Mireille Knoll, Holocaust Survivor ‘Murdered Because She Was Jewish’
More than ten thousand people took to the streets of Paris on Tuesday in tribute to Mireille Knoll, the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor murdered in her apartment last Friday in an antisemitic attack carried out by two men who are now in police custody.
Gathered behind an enormous banner that declared “France Unites Against Antisemitism,” the protestors marched from the Place de la Nation to the street where Mrs Knoll had lived for several decades in the 11th arrondissement of the French capital. Smaller rallies were also reported in other French cities, including Strasbourg, Marseille and Lyon.
The rally in Paris followed Mrs Knoll’s funeral earlier in the day, which was attended by French President Emmanuel Macron in a “personal capacity.”
Macron went directly to the Bagneux cemetery straight after the solemn national tribute on Tuesday to national hero Col. Arnaud Beltrame — the 44-year-old French police officer murdered on the same day as Mrs. Knoll, after he exchanged himself for a hostage in the midst of a siege by an Islamist gunman at a supermarket in southern France that also claimed three other victims.
Macron told the crowds at Col. Beltrame’s memorial that Mrs. Knoll — “murdered because she was Jewish” — was a victim of the same “barbarous obscurantism” that drove Radouane Lakdim, the jihadi terrorist behind last week’s supermarket attack. Arriving at the cemetery, Macron donned a kippah and met privately with the Knoll family after the funeral had taken place.
Leading French politicians and public figures attended Tuesday evening’s rally in Paris, among them Gérard Collomb, the country’s interior minister, Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, and representatives of several political parties that included Pierre Laurent, the secretary-general of the French Communist Party.
But there were less than enthusiastic welcomes for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the anti-Zionist head of the leftist La France Insoumise party, and Marine Le Pen, leader of the extreme-right National Front, both of whom arrived at the rally within minutes of each other. Whistled and booed by the crowd with minor scuffles reported, both politicians eventually left the procession, with Le Pen returning later on to join the back end of the march.
The clash followed an explicit appeal from French Jewish organization CRIF — which called Tuesday’s rally — to both leaders to stay away. “Antisemites are over-represented in the far left and the far right, making those parties ones that you don’t want to be associated with,” CRIF President Francis Kalifat told a French radio station on Tuesday. “Therefore they are not welcome.”
Following the march, Le Pen accused CRIF of “representing only itself” and of identifying her as an “enemy” despite her opposition to “Islamist antisemitism.” The FN’s newspaper Marianne also tried to enlist the Knoll family in its defense, quoting Mrs. Knoll’s son Daniel’s earlier statement that the march was open “to all those who have a mother — that is, to everyone.”
Interviewed by French radio on Tuesday, Daniel Knoll spoke frankly of the impact of his mother’s horrifc murder on the family — Mrs. Knoll’s burned body with multiple stab wounds was discovered by firefighters who rushed to her apartment to put out a blaze started by the two alleged killers.
While he stressed that France itself was not antisemitic, Knoll emphasized that “there are anti-Semites, there are fools.”
“There are people who still believe that the Jews are all rich,” Knoll continued, pointing out that his mother had lived on modest monthly pension of 800 Euros (just under $1,000).
Stéphanie Hochet, a 43-year-old Paris resident who attended the rally, told a reporter for Le Monde that tougher policies were needed to confront violent antisemitism in France, which “is increasing.”
Ms. Hochet, who is not Jewish, said she joined the memorial to Mrs. Knoll “because I feel solidarity.”
“I spend a lot of time on social networks, I see the hatred unleashed against the Jews,” she commented.