Family members, friends and France’s president honored an 85-year-old woman who escaped the Nazis 76 years ago but was stabbed to death last week in her Paris apartment, apparently targeted because she was Jewish.
Mireille Knoll’s death has taken on national importance, reminding France of both historic anti-Semitism and its resurgence in some quarters in recent years.
French President Emmanuel Macron decried the “barbaric” views that fueled an Islamic extremist’s supermarket hostage-taking last week as well as Knoll’s killing. In a speech at the 19th century Invalides monument Wednesday, Macron said Knoll’s attacker “murdered an innocent and vulnerable woman because she was Jewish, and in doing so profaned our sacred values and our history.”
Later, Macron made a surprise appearance at Knoll’s funeral ceremony in the Jewish section of the cemetery in the Paris suburb of Bagneux, where somber-faced guests gathered to pay their respects.
Le président de Macron aux obsèques de Mme Knoll pic.twitter.com/vgD02B0SJ0
— abraham ben isaac (@abrahambenisaac) March 28, 2018
Macron had also commented about the March 23 slaying on Twitter, calling it “appalling.”
“I am deeply affected by the appalling crime committed against Mrs. Knoll. I reaffirm my resolute determination to fight against anti-Semitism,” he wrote.
Silent marches were held later Wednesday around the country in her honor, and to denounce racism. [Photos Below]
Far-right French leader Marine Le Pen insisted on attending the Paris march, but was booed and insulted by the crowd.
Cries of “Go home!” and “Nazi! Nazi!” rang out at Wednesday’s march in Paris, which drew thousands. Le Pen had insisted on attending the march despite objections by France’s largest Jewish group. She was protected by a phalanx of supporters and bodyguards.
The head of the CRIF Jewish organization said Le Pen’s National Front and members of the far left would not be welcome at the marches because of anti-Semitic sentiment among their members.
Le Pen tweeted Wednesday that the CRIF can’t stop her from attending. She has sought to distance herself from the anti-Semitism that stained her party in the past, instead focusing anger on immigrants and Islamic extremists.
The son of Mireille Knoll had countered that “everyone, without exception” was welcome at the march.
Speaking on RMC radio, Daniel Knoll said he wanted to encourage national unity and distanced himself from the CRIF’s political position.
“Whether it is a Jewish mother, a black mother, a Protestant mother, a Muslim mother, they are all our mothers. They have the right to live normally, with love,” he said.
Le Pen, National Front president, has broken ties with her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party founder who’s been convicted of anti-Semitism and racism.
Mireille Knoll was killed Friday in her apartment, which was then set on fire. Prosecutors filed preliminary charges against two people for murder with anti-Semitic motives, including a neighbor Knoll hosted regularly, according to her son.
Authorities have not released the names of the two men in custody but have said the chief suspect is a 29-year-old with a past conviction who lived in the same building.
Speaking Tuesday to The Associated Press, Daniel Knoll said, “My mother had a thirst for knowledge and meeting new people and talking to them, and that’s what killed her.”
Mireille Knoll was forced to flee Paris with her family at age 9 to escape a notorious World War II roundup of Jews. After the war she returned to Paris and spent most of her life in the eastern Paris apartment where she was killed, according to her son.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum urged French and European officials to “redouble efforts to combat the rise in anti-Semitism plaguing much of the continent.”
France’s government presented a plan earlier this month to fight racism and anti-Semitism, focusing on social media and prevention in schools.