PARIS – Thousands of people gathered Wednesday evening at Paris’s Place de la Nation for a silent march, expressing solidarity with the family of Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor who was murdered at home.
French police suspect antisemitism motivated murder of Holocaust survivor, March 27, 2018 (Reuters)
Last Friday, Knoll was apparently stabbed to death, and then her apartment was set on fire. A French court indicted two suspects on Monday for the crime, which prosecutors have called an antisemitic attack.
President Emmanuel Macron condemned the slaying on Wednesday, speaking at a memorial held for a senior gendarme, Lt.-Col. Arnaud Beltrame, killed in the recent Islamist attack in Trèbes, in the south.
Macron said Knoll was killed “because she was Jewish” and condemned the perpetrators for “profaning our values and memory.” The French president attended her funeral at the Bagneux cemetery, outside Paris, on Wednesday, but not the march.
Knoll’s relatives and French-Jewish community leaders led the march, joined by numerous politicians and civic leaders. Participants walked silently from the Place de la Nation to Knoll’s apartment house on Avenue Philippe August, in the capital’s 11th arrondissement.
Jewish and non-Jewish groups such as SOS Racisme and LICRA – The International League Against Racism and Antisemitism mixed in the crowd, together with French Muslim personalities such as former head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith Anouar Kbibech and Imam of Drancy Hassen Chalghoumi.
Jeanne, a 20-year-old student, told The Jerusalem Post: “This demonstration unites all French citizens. We feel that it is not just the Jewish community that must worry about antisemitism and violence, but our entire society. All of us must cry and protest over such heinous acts.”
Less welcomed by the organizers were representatives of the far Right, following a call by National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who insisted on participating. Le Pen tweeted on Wednesday that the CRIF Jewish umbrella organization would be unable to stop her from attending the march. She was seen among the demonstrators, surrounding by security guards.
Daniel Knoll, son of the victim, disagreed with CRIF’s approach. Speaking on the radio Tuesday evening, he called upon “everyone, and I really mean every one, without any exception” to take part at the march. “Everybody with a mother can understand this. Everybody has a mother. CRIF is doing politics. But me, I open my heart to everyone.”
“This [march] is for everyone,” Knoll said.
CRIF executive director Robert Ejnes told the Post the murder of Knoll generated a great sense of solidarity in France against antisemitism.
“Mireille Knoll’s face is the face of everybody’s grandmother: a kind, gentle and smiling lady who harmed no one,” he said. “This image of her touched many. In fact, it created a sort of solidarity that we did not experience here before. Suddenly people realized that she was not the first Jewish person attacked and killed in her own home. Suddenly people realized that Sarah Halimi, too, was attacked [in Paris in April 2017] inside her apartment and killed only because she was Jewish. And there were others as well, like the Jewish couple attacked in the Paris suburb of Creteil in 2014. In fact, 11 Jews were murdered in antisemitic acts since 2006.”
Ejnes said the French political echelon has always expressed itself clearly against antisemitism.
“President Macron presented to us just a few days ago his program for fighting antisemitism,” he said. “He is fully committed to this battle, the same way his predecessors were also committed. Many political figures called upon French citizens to join the march.
“But what is different this time around is that the civil society is present. This means that the approach of people is changing; that they and starting to understand the phenomenon of this ‘new antisemitism,’ which includes both the ‘traditional’ antisemitic components and hatred of Israel. And also, people now realize that this ‘new antisemitism’ is present daily and that it penetrates the lives and homes of Jews, ordinary French citizens,” Ejnes said
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