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'Enough is enough', say marchers at Paris rally for murdered Holocaust survivor

Alain Jocard / AFP | Politicians and others stand behind banners as they prepare to take part in a silent march in Paris on March 28, 2018 in memory of Mireille Knoll.

The mood was sombre yet indignant as thousands marched in Paris on Wednesday in memory of Mireille Knoll, 85, who was found dead on Friday after what police suspect was a robbery and murder motivated by anti-Semitism.

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Knoll – who as a 9-year-old child escaped deportation to Auschwitz in the notorious 1942 Vel d’Hiv roundup – was found dead at her home in Paris’s 11th arrondissement (district) on March 23 with 11 stab wounds. Her apartment had been set on fire after the attack and her body was severely burnt.

“I’m here to express my sadness,” one demonstrator, Algerian-French poet Abder Zegout, told FRANCE 24. “It’s odious that someone could do this and not leave an old lady to live her last years in peace. This has to stop.”

Indeed, there was a strong feeling of anger as well as sorrow at the march. “Ne touche pas mon pote (Don’t touch my friend),” read cardboard cut-outs of hands held aloft by numerous demonstrators. Several banners bearing the insignia of the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF) said: “In France, grandmothers are killed because they are Jewish.”

‘A rise in anti-Semitism in France’

The murder of Knoll is the latest in a string of anti-Semitic killings in France that have caused increasing alarm in the country’s Jewish community.

“Since 2000, there’s been a rise in anti-Semitism in France,” said Robert Ejnas, executive director of CRIF, an umbrella organisation of French Jewish groups that organised Wednesday’s rally.

“This has been expressed through violence, especially through the deaths of 11 people for the only reason being that they were Jewish,” Ejnas told FRANCE 24. “There was Ilan Halimi in 2006, the Toulouse killings in 2012, the kosher supermarket in 2015, Sara Halimi last year, and now Mrs. Knoll.”

“It’s an absolutely intolerable situation,” said another demonstrator, Amy, an American-born Parisian. “It’s totally one thing after another, after another, and it’s just too much. At some point people have got to say: enough is enough. I hope it stops, and I’m worried that it won’t.”

Rebekah, an elderly lady participating in the rally, added: “Today we’re sending out a cry of alarm: France isn’t doing what it needs to do for Jews here. But, fortunately, there are other countries, and if things carry on like this, Jews will leave France.”

"Together, we confront anti-Semitism", reads banner at Mireille Knoll memorial march
"Together, we confront anti-Semitism", reads banner at Mireille Knoll memorial march Tom Wheeldon

Political controversy rears its ugly head

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the hard-left France Unbowed party, both showed up at the rally. They were greeted with boos, jeers and chants of “Get out, Le Pen! Get out, Mélenchon!” When tensions mounted, they pulled out – although Le Pen managed to rejoin the march later.

“Anti-Semites are over-represented in the far-left and the far-right, making those parties ones that you don’t want to be associated with,” CRIF president Francis Kalifat told RTL radio earlier on Wednesday. “Therefore they are not welcome.”

Nevertheless, Knoll’s son Daniel was adamant that the demonstration should be open to anyone. “CRIF is playing politics but I’m just opening my heart,” he told RMC radio on Wednesday.

His approach had some support amongst the marchers. One demonstrator, who gave her name as Rosa, told FRANCE 24: "In a democracy, everyone has the right to participate in demonstrations like this one. In a democracy, there are no such barriers. As long as people join in with a good heart".

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