It’s been nearly 73 years since the Holocaust came to its end, but the scars of the victims will remain for eternity. The mass murder of some six million European Jews, as well as millions of other persecuted groups, including gypsies, homosexual people and disabled people, remains one of the most horrifying events in history and it is our responsibility to remember it forever. However, perhaps even more crucial is our duty to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again.
We have a habit of looking back at the events of the late 1930s and mid-1940s and convincing ourselves that the attitudes that prevailed among Nazi supporters belong in the past. However, every now and again, something happens that makes us admit to ourselves that the persecution of the past could be easily repeated, and isn’t worlds apart from what is going on on our doorsteps every single day.
A chief example of this is the brutal murder of an 85-year-old woman in Paris this month. Mireille Knoll was stabbed to death and set on fire in her apartment in the city’s 11th arrondissement in an antisemitic attack on March 23. The murder is perhaps made even more harrowing due to the knowledge that Knoll was a Holocaust survivor who narrowly escaped a mass round-up of French Jews during the Second World War in 1942. This was a woman who survived everything the Nazis threw at her, but couldn’t survive 2018.
Mireille Knoll, 85 ans, rescapée de la rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv en juillet 1942, a péri, vendredi, poignardée et brûlée à son domicile. Une horreur qui ne doit souffrir aucun silence. Nous lui devions protection. Nous avons échoué. Pensées et soutien à ses proches effondrés. pic.twitter.com/TzrdgaUx24
— Bernard-Henri Lévy (@BHL) 26 March 2018
The elderly grandmother’s body was discovered on Friday evening. Evidence showed that up to five fires were started in her property and that the victim was also stabbed 11 times during the assault. On the Monday, the Paris prosecutor’s office announced that two men were being investigated for an antisemitic hate crime, of the two men arrested, a 29-year-old with previous criminal convictions, was identified by Knoll’s son as “someone my mother knew very well and considered a son.” Broadcaster France 3 reported that Knoll had known the man over a period of twenty years since his childhood. In addition, the second suspect was alleged to be a 22-year-old homeless man known to the police for previous criminal offences.
The tragic incident has shaken France, with mourners set to gather in Paris on Wednesday 28 March for a silent march to condemn the gruesome killing. However, the incident is far from unorthodox and will go down in history as not a standalone attack, but instead the latest in a string of antisemitic attacks that have left France’s Jewish community terrified.
Despite France having the largest Jewish community in Europe, with roughly half a million people who worship Judaism living there, a violent strain of antisemitism has emerged there over the past few years. Knoll’s murder comes just a year after another elderly woman was killed in the same neighbourhood. Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Orthodox Jew, was beaten to death in her home in April. It took almost a year for an investigation to conclude that the murder was, in fact, a hate crime, with many speculating that the discriminatory aspect of the incident was hushed up in the media by the government out of fear that it would garner support for National Front leader, Marie le Pen, who was then running against French President Emmanuel Macron in the French election.
Halimi’s murder followed numerous reports of racist hate crimes taking place across France including in 2012 when an Islamist gunman shot dead three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse and in 2015, when an associate of the two brothers who massacred a group of cartoonists at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo killed four people at a Jewish supermarket in Paris.
The country is no stranger to anti-Semitic protests either, one instance in July 2014 seeing hundreds of people gather to chant “Mort aux Juifs”: “Death to the Jews.” Tragically, the prejudice has led many Jews to leave their home country and emigrate to Israel; reportedly, around 3,200 people left in 2013, a startling 63 per cent jump when compared to 2012. Furthermore, nearly 8,000 French Jews allegedly left for Israel in the wake of the 2015 supermarket attack.
This is not to say that the government aren’t well-aware of the issue. In 2015, France invested €100 million in a long-term plan to fight racism and antisemitism, with French Prime Minister at the time Manuel Valls declaring “French Jews must no longer be scared to be Jewish” and “French Muslims must no longer be scared to be Muslim.”
Furthermore, current President Macon has named anti-Semitic behaviour “the shame of France”, stating in March 2018: “We must never falter, we will never falter in denouncing antisemitism and fighting against this scourge. Antisemitism is the opposite of the Republic, it is the shame of France, and we fight every day for a Republic of honour and fraternity.” The leader has claimed that the government would continue to fight the problem in schools, at synagogues and online, vowing a crackdown on racist attitudes and actions.
However, it seems that no matter what the French government says, the hate continues and many of the Jewish community are left with just two options: Leave their homes, or live in fear. With a rising number of Jews claiming that they feel unsafe in their homes and an EU survey suggesting that 40 per cent of Jews in France avoid wearing clothing that identifies them, it is to be expected that more and more Jews will be leaving the country, with the “shame of France” living to fight another day.