Hollande at Tolouse memorial 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Regis Duvignau)
PARIS – An official memorial was held on Sunday in Toulouse, France,
commemorating the first anniversary of the deaths of seven civilians, among them
four Jews, killed by terrorist Mohamed Merah.
On March 17, 2012, Merah, a
young Franco-Algerian Islamist, launched a series of deadly attacks over several
days, killing three soldiers, a rabbi and his two children, and a third Jewish
child. The four Jewish victims were killed at the Toulouse Jewish school then
known as Otzar HaTorah.
The school has since changed its name to Ohr
HaTorah in honor of the victims of the attack.
Soon after the attack on
the school, authorities found Merah and killed him during a standoff outside his
The memorial held on Sunday was attended by French President
Francois Hollande, whose offices in Elysee Palace described the event as “a
moment of prayer over a moment of reverence for the whole nation.”
Interior Minister Manuel Valls and the leaders of the Jewish and Muslim
communities also attended the event.
Before the ceremony at Place du
Capitole in center of Toulouse, an honor march took place in Toulouse’s streets,
ending in Charles de Gaulle Square. There, the president was waiting with Valls,
French Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, and famous French Jewish writer Marek
Halter, leading a delegation of 13 French imams, including interfaith activist
Hassen Chalghoumi, the imam of Drancy – the city near Paris from where Jews were
sent to Auschwitz during World War II.
Hollande gave a 15-minute speech
during the ceremony at Place du Capitole in which he honored the memory of the
victims. He added a few words about the terrorist threat in France and abroad,
and asked the audience to observe a moment of silence.
Referring to the
polemics in France about the responsibilities of the security services, Hollande
said, “Could the tragedy have been avoided? Did Merah acted alone or was he a
member of a larger group? The answer must be given to the families and to the
whole of France. I give my promise,” he said.
“The fight against terror
is a global fight... that is why France is fulfilling its duties in Mali in the
name of the international community,” he added.
According to Hollande,
“anti- Semitism hasn’t stopped after the tragedy in Toulouse, where children
died for the same reason as those of the Vel d’Hiv and Drancy: because they were
Jews,” referencing deportation points to concentration camps during the
Toulouse Mayor Pierre Cohen also spoke at the ceremony and
nine elementary school pupils read the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling, chosen by
members of the municipal children council, with the approval of the Toulouse
Municipality and of the Elysee.
The event also included the planting in
Charles de Gaulle Square of a magnolia, a tree which symbolizes strength and
dignity. The president also hosted a private reception for the victims’
In an interview with the newspaper Le Parisien, Samuel Sandler,
the father of one of the victims, complained that “in France, the killer is much
more admired than the victims.”
Without ever mentioning Merah by name, he
said, “The Germans did not film their victims, but he, the assassin,
he is not a human being, worst than the Nazis. And if he has
admirers in the suburbs, I think they are little potential
Sandler, a Bible studies teacher and author of the book For
more light, lost his son Jonathan in the attack.
“I thought that the
period when children were killed because of their Jewish religion was over,” he
said. “I always ask myself what did my little cousin think about when he was
taken to Drancy [and killed during the Holocaust]. He was killed because he was
Jew. My children were killed because they were Jews. For me, it is the same Nazi
philosophy saying that someone has the right to live or not.”