Two suspects have been arrested in the brutal murder of an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor in Paris in what French authorities have labeled an anti-Semitic crime.
The incident occurred this past Friday night, and arrests were made on Monday. The victim, Mireille Knoll, Hy”d, was stabbed multiple times before her apartment was set on fire, largely destroying it. One suspect is a 29-year-old neighbor who had known the victim since his childhood. No information was available about the other suspect besides that he and his accused accomplice are both Muslims.
The crime comes amid a recent uptick in violent attacks against Jews in France. Robert Ejnes, Executive Director of the umbrella group for French Jewish organizations, CRIF, told Hamodia that Mrs. Knoll’s murder, against the backdrop of the trend, has resulted in “a real fear in the community.”
“The facts clearly show that there have been more attacks against Jews, especially ones who are identifiably Jewish,” he said. “We have had many discussions on rising anti-Semitism both from the extreme right and from radicalized Muslims which has been a problem for some time especially in poor suburban areas and are working with the authorities.”
Multiple details of the incident were eerily reminiscent of the murder of Sarah Halimi, Hy”d, a 66 year old teacher who was brutally killed by a young Muslim neighbor almost exactly a year ago. Both crimes took place in the 11th arrondissement or district of Paris, home to a large Jewish community with many kosher stores.
Despite the fact that Mrs. Halimi’s murderer had used anti-Jewish epithets and recited verses from the Koran during the crime, authorities refused to classify the case as a “hate crime” for many months and only did so amid wide public outcry from Jewish groups and several prominent public figures. Many speculated at the time that the anti-Semitic aspect of the incident were hushed by the government out of fear that it would garner support for National Front leader, Marie le Pen, who was then running against President Emanuel Macron for the seat the latter now occupies. In a recent speech at a CRIF event, President Macron expressed satisfaction that the crime was being tried as an anti-Semitic attack.
Mr. Ejnes said that based on police interrogations of the suspects in Mrs. Knoll’s murder, that prosecutors were confident in labeling the case as motivated by her Jewish identity.
“The judges will have to decide how the case will proceed, but this is not the same as Sarah Halimi; the government is clearly admitting the anti-Semitism here,” he said.
Mrs. Knoll has lived in Paris for all of her life. According to media reports, she escaped the “Vel d”Hiv” mass arrest of Parisian Jews by the occupying Nazi forces. Most of the 13,000 who were initially interred in a sports arena were subsequently deported to Auschwitz.
While she had lived alone for several years, Mrs. Knoll has several children and grandchildren living in Paris as well as at least one granddaughter in Israel. Mr. Ejnes said that the suspect, who lives in the same building she occupied, visited her the afternoon before the crime while some of her children were present and did not display any unusual behavior.
“Why we are so shaken by this crime are obvious, but one reason for the additional emotion is that she seemed like someone who could have been any of our grandmothers, a nice older woman with no reason why she would have been a target,” said Mr. Ejnes.
Since the start of 2018, there has been an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in France. In January, a Jewish High School girl’s face was slashed on her way home and an arsonist burned a kosher grocery. More recently, in Lyon, a Rabbi’s infant child suffered minor injuries from a caustic solution that seems to have been purposely placed in her carriage by a passerby; and this past Purim, a Jewish boy was beaten by a group of Muslim teenagers while on his way back from hearing the Megilah read.
Meyer Habib, who represents French citizens living in Israel in France’s parliament, said Mrs. Knoll was “a victim of the hatred of Jews which rages in [poor] suburbs.”
“It is not about stigmatizing anyone,” he said in a written statement. “But to recognize a sad reality and to fight the Islamism that is plaguing our country.”