'What the Nazis were unable to do, thugs have done'
French Jewish community reels after murder of Holocaust survivor as tensions flare over a march in her honour
President Emmanuel Macron attended the funeral of an 85-year-old Jewish woman, killed in a grisly attack being treated as anti-Semitic, as mourners prepared to hold a silent march in Paris in her honour on Wednesday.
The partly burned body of Mireille Knoll, who escaped the mass deportation of Jews from Paris during World War 2, was found in her small apartment in the east of the city on Friday by firefighters called to extinguish a blaze.
Police arrested a neighbour and another suspect who have been charged in the latest of several attacks that have horrified France’s 500,000-strong Jewish community, the largest in Europe.
Investigators are working on the theory that Knoll, who was robbed and stabbed several times before the apartment was set alight, was targeted because she was a Jew.
Speaking during a national tribute to slain police officer Arnaud Beltrame, Macron denounced Knoll’s attacker, “who murdered an innocent and vulnerable woman because she was Jewish”.Macron’s office said that after the ceremony he went to Knoll’s funeral in a suburb south of Paris “in a personal capacity, to support the family”.
Family members were also to meet Prime Minister Edouard Philippe before the march, which will be held alongside similar gatherings in cities including Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse and Bordeaux.
Officials at Paris’s main mosque expressed its “support” for the victim’s family, saying “the evident anti-Semitic character of this murder is denounced and condemned by all the Muslims of France”.Several leading politicians, including Interior Minister Gerard Collomb and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, said they would attend the march from Place de la Nation to Knoll’s home.
But tensions flared ahead of the march over the anticipated presence of far-right and far-left lawmakers, who organisers had said were not welcome.
“I made it very clear, I explained that the high number of anti-Semites on both the extreme left and the extreme right made these parties unacceptable,” Francis Kalifat, president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish organisations, told RTL radio.
National Front leader Marine le Pen announced she would nonetheless attend the march along with other party officials, citing a call by Knoll’s son Daniel for “everyone, without exception” to attend.
Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the leftwing France Unbowed party, also planned to participate, party sources said.The death of the frail octogenarian – she was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, one of her sons said – has shocked France’s Jewish community.
The accused neighbour had been convicted in 2017 of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl, while sources close the inquiry said he and his accomplice had given conflicting accounts under questioning, each accusing the other of carrying out the attack.
“What the Nazis were unable to do, criminals, thugs have done with the same hatred,” Haim Korsia, the chief rabbi of Paris, said.
The killing comes a year after an Orthodox Jewish woman in her sixties was thrown out of the window of her Paris flat by a neighbour shouting “Allahu Akhbar”.A judge confirmed just last month that the April 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi was motivated by anti-Semitism, a delay that drew the ire of several Jewish groups.
Halimi’s murder reignited the debate over anti-Semitism in working-class districts in France, where Jews have been targeted in several deadly jihadist attacks in recent years.
France’s Jewish community has been hit by a wave of emigration to Israel in the past two decades, partly because of the emergence of a virulent strain of anti-Semitism in predominantly immigrant neighbourhoods.In 2012, an Islamist gunman shot dead three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in the south-western city of Toulouse.
Three years later, an associate of the two brothers who massacred a group of cartoonists at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killed four people in a hostage-taking at a Jewish supermarket in Paris.