The death of an 85-year-old survivor of the Holocaust is being treated as a possible anti-Semitic hate crime by French police.
Mireille Knoll's apartment, where she lived alone in the 11th Arrondissement, or district, of Paris, caught fire on Friday. But Knoll's cause of death wasn't the fire or smoke inhalation, an autopsy revealed, but at least 11 stab wounds. Authorities on Monday said they were investigating whether her religion was the reason she was killed.
Two suspects in her murder have been taken into custody, both the Guardian and Washington Post reported on Monday. Details were sparse — a judicial official would only tell the Post that one of the suspects was born in 1989.
“We are really in shock,” Knoll's son said in a statement. “I don’t understand how someone could kill a woman who has no money and who lives in a social housing complex.”
Her son, named as Daniel in the Times of Israel, said that one of the suspects was “like a son” to Knoll and frequent visitor, who had come to her apartment the day of the fire.
Knoll, according to her family, was one of an estimated 7,000 French Jews rounded up in 1942 and held at the now-demolished Vel d’Hiv cycling track. Most of those held were later deported to Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz. After the war, Knoll married a fellow Holocaust survivor, who died in the early 2000s, and settled down in Paris, where she lived until her death on Friday.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is currently visiting Israel, said that news of Knoll's death "was a very difficult and emotional moment for me. I had just completed my visit to Yad Vashem and I heard about the horror of the murder. We currently cannot say the reason for the murder was anti-Semitism, but it is plausible, and it will not be surprising."
Haïm Korsia, Paris's chief rabbi, wrote on Twitter that he was "horrified" by the crime and compared it to the death of Sarah Halimi, nearly one year ago exactly.
Halimi, an Orthodox Jewish physicist and kindergarten teacher, was 66 when she was attacked and thrown from a window last year. Her case led to an outcry from local Jewish groups when it was not initially treated as a potential case of anti-Semitism. Last month, a judge declared that anti-Semitism was at the heart of her case after public outcry reached the point that French President Emmanuel Macron intervened personally.
Both Halimi and Knoll lived in the 11th district, Noémie Halioua, a French journalist and author of a book on Halimi's murder, noted to the Washington Post. “There is also the barbarity of the crimes, and the fact that in both cases the victims were fragile women,” Halioua said.
“Once again, an innocent person has been brutally murdered in France for no other apparent reason than the fact that she was Jewish and perceived as vulnerable,” Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement. “It is sickening to think that someone could do this to an elderly Holocaust survivor. We stand with the French community in demanding justice, and a clear message from the authorities that violence against Jews carries a heavy price.”
The last several years have seen a marked rise in anti-Semitism in both Europe and the United States, alongside a rise in historical revisionism about the Holocaust as its survivors begin to die out. In the UK, 2016 saw more reports of anti-Semitic acts than any year on record. Jewish cemeteries were vandalized and community centers were threatened in the US in 2017, while in Poland a new law making it illegal to blame Poles for any part in the Holocaust has sparked international concern.