Jewish widow survived Holocaust, is stabbed to death, burned in apparent hate crime

Mireille Knoll was found stabbed to death in her apartment in Paris’ working-class 11th Arrondissement, according to the New York Times. Her body was also partially burned when her attackers attempted to set the apartment on fire. 

Two men in their 20s were arrested Monday in connection with the crime, the Times reported. One of the men was Knoll’s neighbor in her apartment building. 

NBC News reported that a French judicial official said the men are facing preliminary charges of murder with anti-Semitic motives, robbery and damaging property. 

Smoke damage can be seen above a window of the Paris apartment of Mireille Knoll, 85, who was found stabbed to death Friday, March 23, 2018, by firefighters responding to a call. Two men have been arrested on charges they killed Knoll because she was Jewish, then set her apartment on fire.
Photo: (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Francis Kalifat, head of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France, told the Times that the neighbor knew Knoll for a long time and was friendly toward her prior to the slaying. 

“These are not just thugs,” Kalifat said. “She was attacked because she was Jewish. This is what characterizes anti-Semitism in our country.”

Kalifat told the Times that the principal suspect, who he described as being of North African origin, gave the belief that “Jews have money” as his reasoning for the attack. 

“She was absolutely massacred. Eleven knife wounds,” Kalifat said. “That is hatred of the Jews. We see it in the fury of the murderer.

“This is how we recognize anti-Semitism.”

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Knoll was 9 years old when she and her mother escaped the World War II roundup of about 13,000 Jews by French police, who were cooperating with German forces, NBC News reported. The people rounded up -- including more than 4,000 children -- were housed in a cycling stadium, the Vélodrome d’Hiver, before being sent to the Auschwitz death camp, where virtually all of them died. 

Knoll and her mother escaped at the last minute because her mother had a Brazilian passport, the Times reportedNBC News said the pair then fled to Portugal and returned to France after the war. 

Knoll’s late husband was also a Holocaust survivor. 

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted Monday that he was saddened by the “appalling crime” committed against Knoll. 

“I reaffirm my absolute determination to fight against anti-Semitism,” Macron said

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo also called on Parisians to join a silent march scheduled for Wednesday in Knoll’s memory, NBC News reported. Several politicians vowed to attend.

Knoll’s death is the latest in a spate of anti-Semitic attacks that have shaken France in the past few years. The murder last April of an elderly Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, was only last month reclassified as an anti-Semitic crime, NBC News said

The suspect, who is now in a psychiatric hospital, beat Halimi, 65, before throwing her from a window and off her balcony. 

Rabbi Haim Korsia, the chief rabbi for France, pointed out that Knoll’s death comes almost a year to the day after Halimi’s April 4 slaying. 

“The horror of the crime and the violence of the executioners are identical and are a negation of humanity,” Korsia wrote on Twitter

The Times of Israel last month reported that, like one of the men accused in Knoll’s slaying, the man who killed Halimi, 27-year-old Kobili Traore, was a neighbor of the victim. Traore was accused of breaking into Halimi’s apartment overnight on April 3 and, as he beat her, shouting “Allah Akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic. 

Traore is also accused of screaming, “I’ve killed the demon,” in Arabic, the Israeli newspaper reported

The anti-Semitism classification was added to Traore’s charges last month after Jewish groups in France sought legal action demanding a response from officials about the religious angle of the crime. 

Gérard Collomb, France’s minister of the interior, said in a statement Monday that he was grateful for the speed with which investigators made arrests in Knoll’s slaying. 

“All necessary means will be mobilized to shed light on the motivations of the perpetrators of this act of barbarism, which recalls the darkest hours of our history,” Collomb said. “To attack a Jew is to attack France and the values that are the very basis of this nation.”

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