Thousands march to honour Holocaust survivor slain in anti-Semitic attack
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Several thousand people took part in a silent memorial march in Paris on Wednesday in memory of an 85-year-old Jewish woman who was brutally murdered last week in what is being treated as an anti-Semitic attack.
The horrific murder of Mireille Knoll, 85, has profoundly shocked France. She was found with 11 stab wounds at her apartment in Paris on Friday. The apartment was set ablaze after the attack and her body badly burned. Investigators are working on the theory that Knoll, who was also robbed, was targeted because she was Jewish.
French President Emmanuel Macron attended her funeral on Wednesday, with his Élysée Palace office saying that Macron went to the ceremony "in a personal capacity, to support the family".
Earlier in the day, Macron denounced Knoll's attacker as someone who "murdered an innocent and vulnerable woman because she was Jewish, and in doing so profaned our sacred values and our history".
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo was among the thousands who turned out for a silent memorial march, known as a marche blanche (white march), in Knoll's honour in Paris on Wednesday.
The march was planned by CRIF (Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France), an umbrella organisation of French Jewish groups. CRIF director Francis Kalifat had said neither the far-right National Front nor members of the far left would be welcome because of the anti-Semitic sentiment prevalent among some of their members.
Kalifat told RTL radio: "Anti-Semites are over-represented in the far left and the far right ... Therefore they are not welcome."
Nevertheless, National Front leader Marine Le Pen was present at the rally in Knoll's honour. She tweeted earlier on Wednesday that the CRIF would not stop her from attending. She has long sought to distance herself from the anti-Semitism that has plagued her party in the past (party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, has described the Holocaust as a “mere detail of history”).
Representatives from the far left said they were equally undeterred. "We had planned to take part in the rally and will be there no matter what," lawmaker Adrien Quatennens of the far-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party told LCP TV.
France's 400,000-strong Jewish community has expressed alarm over rising anti-Semitism, which Interior Minister Gérard Collomb on Tuesday described as a cancer that must not be allowed to eat away at the nation. According to interior ministry figures, violent anti-Semitic crimes have risen 25 percent since 2016.
Officials at Paris's main mosque have expressed support for the Knoll's family, saying "the evident anti-Semitic character of this murder is denounced and condemned by all the Muslims of France".
‘Opening my heart’
While the CRIF was adamant about the far right and far left staying away, Knoll's son Daniel said the rally should be open to everyone.
"CRIF is playing politics but I'm just opening my heart," he told RMC radio, saying a ban on attendance was not the right approach.
Ministers in Macron's government also said the rally should be a moment of national unity.
"Everybody is welcome to come and honour the memory of this woman today," government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told Radio Classique.
Other rallies in honour of Knoll – who narrowly escaped being deported to Auschwitz during World War II when 13,000 Jews were rounded up in July 1942 at the infamous Vél d'Hiv stadium in Paris – are planned in Lyon, Marseille and Strasbourg.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)