PARIS — A Jewish grandmother found murdered in her Paris apartment was an “admirable woman” who had escaped the Nazi round-up of Jews in the city more than 70 years ago, her family said.
The stabbed and charred body of Mireille Knoll, 85, was found on Friday by firefighters called to extinguish a blaze.
“My grandmother was an admirable woman, very gentle, very sweet. She was full of joy, she loved life,” her granddaughter Noa Goldfarb told AFP.
“She didn’t believe in evil in people, maybe she was a little naive.”
Her anguished son, Daniel Knoll, said she had been stabbed 11 times.
“I thought I was going to die on the spot. I cried all the tears in my body and I thought of her. She didn’t deserve this,” Knoll told The Associated Press Tuesday, near the Paris public housing project his mother called home for most of her life.
“How can one do that to anybody? The police revealed she was stabbed 11 times.”
In July 1942 the young Mireille managed to flee Nazi-occupied Paris with her mother, before the Vel d’Hiv mass round-up of 13,000 Jews, and cross the border into Portugal on a Brazilian passport obtained by her father.
“The soldiers looked at the passports and finally decided to let them in,” her son Daniel told i24 News.
After the war she married an Auschwitz survivor and moved to Canada before returning to Paris.
The couple raised two sons and her late husband ran a raincoat workshop in the Jewish district of Sentier.
“She was never afraid,” said her granddaughter, describing Mireille as “French through-and-through.”
Although not practicing, she was “Jewish at heart”, living a modest and open life “in contact with many friends of all religions.”
But following the blaze at her apartment, “there was nothing left, no photo album, not of her or Saba (grandfather in Hebrew), nothing.”
Mireille, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease according to her son, lived alone in her second-floor apartment and only came out in her wheelchair accompanied by a caregiver.
Over the years her grandchildren and other French Jews moved to Israel, but Knoll stayed in her beloved Paris, living nearly her whole life in the modest apartment on Avenue Philippe Auguste.
“There was nothing to steal. My mother was poor,” her son said. “Her credit card? She would have only been able to withdraw 100 euros. She had no money on her account.”
Authorities have not released the names of the two men in custody but have said the chief suspect is a 29-year-old with a past conviction who lived in the same building.
Daniel Knoll said the suspect had lived there since he was 7. His mother “took pleasure in having him at home and … although we’d asked her not to welcome him, she let him in like she always did, the same way she did with everybody, with kindness,” he said.
“My mother had a thirst for knowledge and meeting new people and talking to them and that’s what killed her,” he said.
Daniel Knoll remembered his mother as talkative and vivacious. In a home video she could be seen raising a glass and declaring, “Lechaim!” — “to life!” in Hebrew.
When she could still walk, he said, “she was going to restaurants, to theaters, to cinemas to see movies. She likes so much to read, she likes life so much. All those people who know war, they like life, maybe more than these crazy people” who killed her.