On 23 March 2018, Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll was murdered in an alleged antisemitic attack.
Knoll, who managed to evade the notorious Vel d’Hiv roundup — the largest detention of Jews in France during World War II— was married to Samuel Cohen, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The murder was particularly brutal, as Knoll was reportedly stabbed eleven times, set on fire, and then thrown out a window. One of the two alleged assailants had known Knoll since he was a child and told investigators that his accomplice asserted, “She’s a Jew. She must have money.” The two suspects have accused each other of the stabbing, one of them claiming that the other shouted “Allahu akbar” [God is great] as he stabbed her.
Within days, the Paris prosecutor's office announced that authorities would be investigating the murder as a hate crime. France’s Interior Minister Gérard Colomb explained that Knoll was killed as a result of her “membership, real or supposed … in a particular religion.”
“To attack a Jew is to attack France,” Collomb said, adding that the attack “recalls the darkest hours of our history.”
The murder was quickly condemned across France’s political spectrum, including by French President Emmanuel Macron, who said that France “is confronted today with a barbaric obscurantism, with the only goal of eliminating our liberties and our solidarities.”
In July 2020, French judges ruled that the two suspects accused of murdering Knoll would stand trial for the alleged antisemitic motivation of their heinous crime. In November, the Paris Court of Appeal rejected the alleged assailants appeal to drop the element of the antisemitic motivation of the murder, arguing that a discussion between the two assailants invoking antisemitic tropes about Jews was “plausible.”
The attack came almost a year after a similar killing of 65-year-old Jewish widow Sarah Halimi. She was murdered by her neighbor, who was heard screaming “Allahu Akbar” as he beat Ms. Halimi, before throwing her body into the courtyard below.
Following the murder, the WJC held a memorial at its headquarters in New York with the participation of French Consul General Anne-Claire Legendre. "No human being should ever have to live in fear of being a target of such aggression because of race, religion, or any other factor,” said WJC President Ronald S. Lauder. "We have now had too many wake-up calls, in Europe and on other continents.”
In July 2018, WJC Jewish Diplomat Caroline Berdugo delivered a moving statement about Knoll’s murder on the floor of the United Nations Human Rights Council, saying “Mireille Knoll could have been my grandmother. Mireille Knoll is my grandmother. Mireille Knoll is our grandmother.”