PARIS – Two men went on trial in Paris on Tuesday accused of killing an 85-year-old French Holocaust survivor, who was stabbed to death in her Paris apartment in what prosecutors call an antisemitic attack.
Mireille Knoll’s brutal death in 2018 shocked France and served as a reminder of both historic antisemitism and its resurgence in recent years.
The two chief suspects accuse each other of the killing, and their lawyers deny any antisemitic reasons, according to French press reports. They are charged with killing a vulnerable person based on religious motives, as well as aggravated theft.
One of the suspects was a neighbor who grew up in the same Paris public housing project where Knoll had lived most of her life. Knoll had frequently hosted him, according to her son.
Knoll was found dead with multiple stab wounds in March 2018 in her apartment, which was then set ablaze. Tribute marches were held around France to honor her and denounce racism. President Emmanuel Macron attended her funeral and said the attackers “profaned our sacred values and our history.”
At age 9, Knoll was forced to flee Paris with her family to escape a notorious World War II 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 of them survived.
A family member with Brazilian citizenship helped Knoll and other relatives escape Nazi-occupied territory for southern Europe and then Canada, according to her son.
She returned to France after the end of the war, and while her grandchildren and other French Jews later moved to Israel, Knoll stayed in her modest apartment in her beloved Paris.
The trial runs through Nov. 19.
Knoll’s death came a year after another Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, was thrown from her Paris balcony to her death. French prosecutors classified the killing as antisemitic, but the country's top court ruled this year that the suspect couldn’t be tried for murder because he was in a “delirious state” — apparently related to his drug use. That decision caused an outcry.
Also Tuesday, Macron inaugurated France’s first museum honoring army Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew who was wrongly convicted of treason in the 19th century. The affair inspired a landmark essay by author Emile Zola that called out French antisemitism, called “J’Accuse.” The museum, in the Paris suburb of Medan, is part of the Zola House and is aimed at “bringing alive the Dreyfus Affair in perpetuating his memory,” according to Macron’s office.