WASHINGTON – As a child, Mireille Knoll barely escaped the sweeping 1942 Nazi-inspired wartime roundup of 13,000 Jews in Paris, most of whom were sent to the notorious Auschwitz death camp.
But just over two weeks ago, on Friday, March 23, a week before Passover, at the age of 85, Mrs. Knoll was raped, tortured and murdered in her apartment in Trèbes, a small town in Southwestern France, by a young Muslim man she had known since he was 7 years old who shouted “Allahu akbar” during his anti-Jewish bloodlust rampage.
The disabled grandmother was stabbed 11 times and her body was burned, according to law enforcement, by two men, one of whom, Yacine Mihoub, the primary suspect, was previously jailed for six months for sexually assaulting the daughter of a woman who helped look after the elderly Mrs. Knoll.
The heinous anti-Semitic crime has blown the lid off what has become a pattern of such attacks in France in the last five years in which some 250 murders have been committed by Muslims, according to Guy Millière, a professor at the University of Paris and author of 27 books on France and Europe.
“Today, France is the only country in the Western world where Jews are murdered simply for being Jews,” writes Millière. “French Jews live in constant insecurity. The men who murder them evidently do not hesitate to break into homes and attack elderly women; they seem to know they can threaten their future victims without fear of arrest. More often than not, the police do not even record the complaints of Jews who go to the police station, but simply note in the daybook that a Jew claiming threats came and went.”
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While authorities in France were quick to point out the accused murderers had no apparent connection to any jihadist groups, Millière says French authorities “never speak of the only anti-Semitism that today in France kills Jews: Islamic anti-Semitism. If the murderer is a Muslim, he is usually described as suddenly ‘radicalized.’ The word ‘radicalized’ is now used to describe Muslim killers. It allows those who use it to avoid the words ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islam.'”
Almost exactly a year ago, on April 4, 2017, Sarah Halimi, another elderly Jewish woman, was tortured and murdered in her home in Paris, then thrown from her window by a man shouting “Allahu akbar.” She had reported to the police several times she was the victim of anti-Semitic threats.
“For months, the French justice system tried to cover-up the anti-Semitic nature of Sarah Halimi’s murder,” says Millière. “There was almost no news coverage of the murder of Sarah Halimi when it took place. There was more on the murder of Mireille Knoll, but almost none referred to the cause of her murder. The fear that neutralizes French politicians and journalists is: Being accused of ‘Islamophobia.'”
Then there was 23-year-old Ilan Halimi, who was abducted and held for three weeks in January and February 2006 while being tortured by his kidnappers before dying of the physical abuse that he had sustained. The ringleader of the self-proclaimed “gang of barbarians,” 25-year-old Youssouf Foufana, said that Halimi, who was an employee in a mobile-phone shop in the same part of Paris where Mireille Knoll lived, was kidnapped for ransom because Jews “have money.”
Then there was the attack at the Ozar HaTorah school in Toulouse in March 2012, when three children and a rabbi were shot dead point-blank by the jihadist Mohammed Merah, who had killed three French soldiers – two of whom were Muslim – over the previous week.
In January 2015, four people were killed in the attack on the kosher supermarket in Vincennes, a suburb bordering Paris.
In the last 20 years, more than 20 percent of French Jews have left the country. According to polls, 40 percent of Jews still living in France want to leave.
“In the last couple of years, [there have] been hundreds [of French Jews] moving to New York City,” said Steve Eisenberg, co-founder of the Jewish International Connection of New York, a Manhattan group that helps international Jews acclimate to the city. “They’re here because they just can’t breathe as Jews in France. There’s no Jewish future there. You can’t walk in Paris wearing a yarmulke. You’re taking your life in your hands.”
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The harassment and violence more often falls short of murder. In January, an 8-year-old outside his Jewish day school in Sarcelles was beaten to the ground, and a 15-year-old girl wearing a Jewish school uniform was slashed across the face by an unknown man. On Jan. 9, an arson fire roared through two kosher Paris markets, weeks after swastikas were painted on both stores. The attack took place on the third anniversary of the Kosher supermarket massacre in which four Jewish customers were murdered during a hostage situation.
Over the past decade in France, anti-Semitic hate crimes have reportedly averaged roughly 566 a year.
There are about 500,000 Jews left in France, representing the second largest population outside of Israel after the U.S.
Manual Valls, whose wife is Jewish and who served as France’s prime minister between March 2014 and December 2016, has acknowledged the connection between the growing anti-Semitism and the growing and insular Arab-Muslim communities.
“First of all, we must not deny the facts,” he said. “We must tell the truth: Anti-Semitism exists, and it is very important to make the correct diagnosis. We have to recognize that, even if our [government’s] actions helped to lower anti-Semitism in recent years, very violent acts against French Jews have increased. One should not be afraid to say that anti-Semitism is the fruit, first of all, of the behavior of Arab Muslims – young and old. One has to name the sources, and justice has to be extremely harsh.”
Meanwhile, Mrs. Knoll’s son Daniel had this to say in the wake of his mother’s murder: “My mother accepted everyone. Even the neighbor who murdered her, she has known since he was seven years old. When he was a boy, he helped her. At first, we weren’t sure [the murder] was due to anti-Semitism. We waited for police to say it, and now we know the truth. Until now, I haven’t felt anti-Semitism in France. Of course, there were dangerous Muslim extremists, but until today I didn’t feel in danger. I work with people from all walks of French society; many are afraid of Muslim extremists, but I didn’t feel that until now. Even today I’m not afraid. There are some who are uneducated, idiots, but they exist everywhere in the world.”
Noa Goldfarb, Knoll’s granddaughter who now lives in the sea-side Israeli town of Herzliya, added: “Grandma didn’t believe in evil. That may be the reason she’s no longer with us.”