She lived to be 85-years-old, and had narrowly escaped death as a child by thwarting the most notorious wartime roundup of Jews during the Holocaust. But she was found murdered and the object of a hate crime in Paris on Friday.
The body of Mireille Knoll was found last week in her apartment in the working class area of Paris at 11th Arrondissement. Knoll had been stabbed to death and her body was partly burned when the attackers attempted to set her apartment on fire.
The reason for this violent act was because of the “membership, real or supposed, of the victim of a particular religion.” In other words, according to the Paris’ prosecutor’s office, she was killed because she was Jewish.
Ms. Knoll was just a child in Paris, in the summer of 1942, when the French police, cooperating with the Germans, rounded up thousands of the city’s Jews and put them into a cycling stadium, the Vélodrome d’Hiver. Almost all of those gathered were eventually murdered at Auschwitz. Knoll’s mother was able to escape from the stadium at the last minute with her daughter because she held a Brazilian passport, according to Meyer Habib, a member of France’s parliament who had spoken with one of Ms. Knoll’s sons.
The head of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France, Francis Kalifat, said: “This makes one feel something absolutely terrible. She escaped the anti-Semitism of the Nazis, but in the end her destiny followed her because she was killed because of anti-Semitism.”
Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said that “to attack a Jew is to attack France, and the values that are the very basis of the nation.”
This is just the most recent anti-Semitic act of violence that has shaken France. Last year Sarah Halimi, another elderly Jewish woman, was murdered by a man of Malian origin who shouted, “God is great” before throwing her out a window.
France’s official response to that crime last year was seen as very slow by the country’s Jews. It took prosecutors months to characterize it as anti-Semitic. The recent murder of Ms. Knoll was handled much differently.
In 2015, there was an attack on a kosher supermarket by Amedy Coulibaly, a heavily armed Frenchman who killed four people. And in 2012, there was an assault on a Jewish school in Toulouse by Mohammed Merah. He killed three children and a teacher after killing three soldiers.
Ms. Knoll was killed on Friday, and by Monday the police had arrested two suspects, both young men in their 20’s. One of the young men was a neighbor of Ms. Knoll’s and had known her for a long time. Mr. Kalifat said, “He had friendly relations with her.”
Kalifat continued saying, “These are not just thugs,” Mr. Kalifat said. “She was attacked because she was Jewish. This is what characterizes anti-Semitism in our country.”
The suspect “said that Jews have money, and that was the reason he attacked her,” Mr. Kalifat said. “She was absolutely massacred. Eleven knife wounds. That is hatred of the Jews, we see it in the fury of the murderer. This is how we recognize anti-Semitism.”
One of France’s chief rabbi’s, Haim Korsia, tweeted: “Horrified by the tragic death of Mireille Knoll, who escaped the Shoah, nearly a year to the day after the murder of Sarah Halimi-Attal. The horror of the crime and the violence of the executioners are identical and are a negation of humanity …”
Ms. Knoll was the widow of a survivor of Auschwitz.
“The Jews are on the front lines,” said Mr. Habib. “They start with the Jews, and afterward they kill other Frenchmen,” he said. “Jews are being killed because they are Jews. That is very serious.”