Thousands March in Paris Against anti-Semitism in Memory of Slain Holocaust Survivor

La Pen and far-right lawmaker booed out of rally for Mireille Knoll, a Holocaust survivor whose violent murder has galvanized the Jewish community in face of fears of growing anti-Semitism

A woman holds a white rose as she stands outside Mireille Knoll's apartment during a silent march in Paris, France, Wednesday, March 28, 2018. Family members, friends and France's president have honored an 85-year-old woman who escaped the Nazis 76 years ago but was stabbed to death last week in her Paris apartment, apparently targeted because she was Jewish. Mireille Knoll's death has taken on national importance, reminding France of both historic anti-Semitism and its resurgence in some quarters in recent years.  (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Thibault Camus/AP

PARIS - Thousands of people marched in Paris on Wednesday in memory of Mireille Knoll, the 85-year old Jewish Holocaust survivor murdered in her Paris apartment last Friday. Attendees of the march said they were worried by the growing insecurity from the increase in anti-Semitic attacks in France.

However, the silent decorum of the march to honor a woman who survived Nazi horrors only to be stabbed to death last week in an alleged anti-Semitic attack was broken with the crowds shouting "Nazi! Nazi!" and other insults at France's far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

"Nothing ever improves. We marched last year for Sarah Halimi and now another woman is killed. We're desperate," said Ilan and Aharon, who are in their twenties, refrencing another Jewish women who was killed in Paris last year.

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"This is the first time I see people turning out and denouncing this violence, but it seems most people protesting today are Jewish. I would have liked to see more Muslims," said 70-year-old Dona, who lives in a village in southern France.

People attend a silent march to honor an 85-year-old woman who escaped the Nazis 76 years ago but was stabbed to death last week in her Paris apartment, apparently targeted because she was Jewish, and to denounce racism, in Paris, France, Wednesday, March 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Thibault Camus/AP

"I don't personally feel threatened and I don't think France is anti-Semitic, but I feel the danger is getting closer," she said.

During the march, thousands sang the Marseillaise, France's national anthem, outside Knoll's building. But not all were welcome.

Dégage!

The march was organized by CRIF, an umbrella organization of French Jewish groups, to honor Knoll's memory and stand against anti-Semitism in France. The group's leader told far-right and far-left groups not to attend, sparking controversy between the political parties and the group.

People stand outside Mireille Knoll's apartment in Paris, France, Wednesday, March 28, 2018. Family members, friends and France's president have honored an 85-year-old woman who escaped the Nazis 76 years ago but was stabbed to death last week in her Paris apartment, apparently targeted because she was Jewish. Mireille Knoll's death has taken on national importance, reminding France of both historic anti-Semitism and its resurgence in some quarters in recent years. The sign reads in French "rest in peace Mireille." (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Thibault Camus/AP

However, far-right politicians did attempt to take part in the march and were heckled by dozens of protesters, with National Front leader Marine Le Pen and MP Gilbert Collard being met with cries of "Dégage!" ("Get out!").

"We kicked them out a first time and then they came back, so we pushed them out again" said Brigitte, one of the marchers.

"I shouted at Le Pen. I can't stand her. Her father said the gas chambers were a 'detail' of history and she dared to come to a march in memory of Mireille Knoll, who escaped the Holocaust!" said her friend Carol.

"I can't stand these people. We have to stop listening to people like these who try to incite hatred."

"Le Pen has only come here to try and get our votes in the next election. She's trying to scare us and it inciting us against one another, but we marched together today: Jews, Muslims and Christians," said Brigitte. 

'The way things are'

Gilbert Collard, the right-wing lawmaker who was thrown out of the protest, told Haaretz that he's " not surprised or shocked by the way these people have treated me.

Thousands march in Paris in memory of slain Holocaust survivor Mirielle Knoll on March 28, 2018.
Shirli Sitbon

"That's the way things are," he said, as people hit the back of the car he was rushed to as it drove off. 

The Jewish umbrella group CRIF had warned that far right party wasn't welcome at the march, but Daniel Knoll, the victim's son, said all were welcome to attend as long as the did not exploit the event for political ends.

Many in the crowd said that the Jewish group was right to ban the National Front from the event, but also said they disagreed with its decision to ban the far left party 'Insoumis' as well.

"The far right is not the same as the far left. When CRIF excludes them both it puts those parties on the same level and this legitimizes the far-right." said Brigitte.

"We always accuse the far-left of failing to denounce anti-Semitism and now CRIF tells them they're not wanted? We want them to join us!" said protester Carol.

But others did not want to see 'Insoumis' leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon at the march and he and his supporters were also booed. He was heckled and was escorted out of the march like Le Pen. 

"People looked at me with so much hatred. I've never seen anything like this," said his friend 74-year-old Nicole, who is Jewish. "I want to fight hatred too but I think we should do this by bringing hope to French Muslim youths who believe they're discriminated against."

'Natural to come'

Last April, after the murder of Sarah Halimi— a 66-year-old Jewish teacher and physician whom prosecutors say was murdered by her Muslim neighbor partly in connection with her Jewish identity— few people turned out for the march in her honor and only one national newspaper covered the killing.

Wednesday's protesters said Mireille Knoll has inspired more solidarity than Halimi because her killing happened at the same time as the terror attacks in Trebes.

"I was startled when I heard this on the radio. Where is this country heading?" said Miriam, a veiled woman who came with her 12-year-old son Yassin. "We came to show our solidarity - because we heard Ms. Knoll's son say everyone can come."

Several people in the crowd thanked the woman, who travelled from a town north of Paris.

"It's natural to come. All parents should show their children we need to show empathy and be tolerant."

Many in the Jewish community, though, said they are sick and tired of silent white marches. "We need a red march of protest," wrote Michel Zerbib, the editor of Jewish station Radio J.

French President Emmanuel Macron made a surprise appearance at Knoll's funeral on Wednesday. In a speech at the 19th century Invalides monument, Macron decried the "barbaric" views that fueled an Islamic extremist's supermarket hostage-taking last week as well as Knoll's killing. Macron said Knoll's attacker "murdered an innocent and vulnerable woman because she was Jewish, and in doing so profaned our sacred values and our history."

French politicians prepare to take part in a slient march in Paris on March 28, 2018, in memory of Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Jewish woman murdered in her home in what police believe was an anti-Semitic attack.
FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP