A French man has been sentenced to life in prison for stabbing an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor to death in an antisemitic attack, a case that triggered widespread outrage and called attention to resurgent anti-Jewish sentiment in France.
After horror and grief, Mireille Knoll’s family feels justice after Wednesday’s verdict.
“We are exhausted but glad that they recognized the antisemitic nature of the attack,” her son, Daniel Knoll, told The Associated Press. The verdict “was appropriate for this horrible crime.”
Knoll was found dead with multiple stab wounds in March 2018 in her Paris apartment, which was then set ablaze. Tribute marches were held around France to honour her and denounce racism. President Emmanuel Macron attended her funeral and said the attackers “profaned our sacred values and our history.”
Yacine Mihoub, a neighbour who grew up in the Paris public housing project where Knoll had lived most of her life, was convicted of killing a vulnerable person based on religious motives, according to Knoll’s family.
Another suspect was acquitted of murder but convicted of aggravated theft with religious motives.
Both had denied targeting her for being Jewish, and their lawyers had argued against classifying the attack as antisemitic. But the case served as a reminder of both historic and current antisemitism in France.
“It’s growing. Everyone needs a scapegoat,” Daniel Knoll said. “We suffer the consequences.”
The verdict “isn’t enough,” he went on to say. “We must educate, educate, educate.”
Escaped as a 9-year-old to Canada
As a nine-year-old during the Second World War, Mireille Knoll was forced to flee Paris with her family to escape a notorious roundup of Jews. French police herded some 13,000 people — including more than 4,000 children — into the Vel d’Hiv stadium in 1942, and shipped them to the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Fewer than 100 survived.
Knoll and other relatives were able to escape Nazi-occupied territory thanks to a family member with Brazilian citizenship, according to her son. They went to southern Europe and then Canada, but Knoll returned to France after the end of the war, and stayed.
Knoll’s death came a year after another Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, was thrown from her Paris balcony to her death.
Knoll’s family is pushing for an annual commemoration to honour all victims of antisemitism, and to encourage young people to reach out to isolated elderly neighbours.
Unless some kind of action is taken, her son said, “After this verdict, Mom will be forgotten.”