French police: Holocaust survivor killed in anti-Semitic attack

Last Friday, firemen were called to the apartment of an 85-year-old woman living in Paris. They managed to put out the fire and found Mireille Knoll had been stabbed 11 times before the fire was set. Today, French police confirmed they have two men in custody for the murder and believe Knoll was targeted because she was Jewish. In fact, as a child she had survived a round-up of Jews by the Nazis. From the NY Times.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said on Monday that Ms. Knoll had been killed because of the “membership, real or supposed, of the victim of a particular religion” — a roundabout way of saying she was killed because she was Jewish.

Ms. Knoll was a child in Paris when, in the summer of 1942, the French police, cooperating with the Germans, rounded up thousands of the city’s Jews, stuffing them into a cycling stadium, the Vélodrome d’Hiver. Virtually all were subsequently murdered at Auschwitz.

Ms. Knoll’s mother, summoned to the stadium like other Parisian Jews, was able to escape at the last minute with her daughter because she had a Brazilian passport, said Meyer Habib, a member of Parliament who has spoken with one of Ms. Knoll’s sons.

Francis Kalifat, the head of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France, said, “This makes one feel something absolutely terrible. She escaped the anti-Semitism of the Nazis but in the end her destiny followed her, because she was killed because of anti-Semitism.”

Kalifat, the head of the Jewish council went on to say that the two suspects are both of North African origin and claimed one of them had said Mrs. Knoll was targeted because the attackers believed Jews have money. The BBC has more on the two suspects:

Two men, aged 22 and 29, have been arrested on suspicion of murder.

A police source told French media that one of them had previously been convicted of molesting a 12-year-old girl who had been staying at Mireille Knoll’s flat.

She had also complained to police that a neighbour had threatened to set fire to her home, according to reports.

All of this comes on the backdrop of ongoing tension over previous attacks on Jews in Paris. Last year another elderly woman named Sarah Halimi was murdered by a Muslim man who beat her and then threw her out of a 3rd story window. From the Guardian:

Kobili Traore, 28, is accused of murdering his neighbour Lucette Attal-Halimi, 65, an Orthodox Jewish woman known by her Hebrew name, Sarah Halimi, after breaking into her council flat in eastern Paris on the night of April 3.

Traore, who is of Malian descent, allegedly recited verses from the Koran while beating Ms Halimi before throwing her out of a third-floor window and shouting: “I’ve killed the Shaitan [devil in Arabic].”

Despite the evidence that the attack had a religious dimension, French authorities declined to include Anti-Semitism as an element of the crime until pressured to do so by French Jewish groups just last month. But the underlying problem in France existed long before that. The Guardian reported in 2015 that young Jews in Paris were hesitant to reveal their identity because of a string of previous attacks:

Lila and Laura have grown up with events such as the murder of Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man who was kidnapped in January 2006 and held for three weeks, during which time he was tortured, leading to his death. In 2012 Mohamed Merah killed four people, including three children, outside a Jewish school in Toulouse. On 7 January Islamist gunmen murdered 12 people at satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, then two days later an accomplice took hostages at a kosher supermarket in south Paris, killing three straight away and another one during the final assaultby the police. A police officer was also killed in associated violence. Until the attack on a synagogue in Copenhagen in February, France was the only western country where its own citizens had killed Jews for being Jewish. In 2015, the year of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, young French Jews are still afraid to acknowledge the community to which they belong.

This is a problem which France has been dealing with for many years. Like the abuse of minors in England by Pakistani men, failing to face the nature of the problem is not going to make it go away.