Political tensions cloud tribute to slain Holocaust survivor
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Political tensions cloud tribute to slain Holocaust survivor

Son of Mireille Knoll decries insults shouted at far-right, far-left leaders during march held in his mother’s honor following her grizzly slaying last week

  • 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, March 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
    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, March 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
  • French far-right leader Marine Le Pen arrives to attend a silent march to honor Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old woman stabbed to death in her Paris apartment, in Paris, France, Wednesday, March 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
    French far-right leader Marine Le Pen arrives to attend a silent march to honor Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old woman stabbed to death in her Paris apartment, in Paris, France, Wednesday, March 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
  • A woman carries a poster reading "I am a Jew" as she attends a silent march to honor an 85-year-old woman who escaped the Nazis 76 years ago but was stabbed to death in her Paris apartment, apparently targeted because she was Jewish, and to denounce racism, in Paris, France, on March 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
    A woman carries a poster reading "I am a Jew" as she attends a silent march to honor an 85-year-old woman who escaped the Nazis 76 years ago but was stabbed to death in her Paris apartment, apparently targeted because she was Jewish, and to denounce racism, in Paris, France, on March 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
  • CRIF President (Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France) Francis Kalifat, left, French interior minister Gerard Collomb, center, and French philosopher and author Bernard-Henri Levy 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, March 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
    CRIF President (Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France) Francis Kalifat, left, French interior minister Gerard Collomb, center, and French philosopher and author Bernard-Henri Levy 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, March 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
  • French President Emmanuel Macron attends Mireille Knoll's funerals Wednesday, March 28, 2018 at the Bagneux cemetery , outside Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
    French President Emmanuel Macron attends Mireille Knoll's funerals Wednesday, March 28, 2018 at the Bagneux cemetery , outside Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

PARIS, France (AP) — The silent decorum of a march to honor an 85-year-old woman who survived Nazi horrors only to be stabbed to death last week in an alleged anti-Semitic attack was shattered Wednesday, with crowds shouting “Nazi! Nazi!” and other insults at France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Mireille Knoll’s death had taken on national importance, reminding France of both historic anti-Semitism and its resurgence in recent years.

Thousands of people — Jews, Muslims and politicians on the left and right — had joined in the evening march from the Place de la Nation to Knoll’s Paris apartment, where she was killed on Friday and her home set ablaze. The tribute was one of many held throughout the day in cities across France to honor Knoll and denounce racism.

Divisions soon surfaced, however, at the Paris march, which both Le Pen and far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon had insisted on attending despite warnings from France’s leading Jewish group, the CRIF, that they would not be welcome. The group’s president, Francois Kalifat, justified their exclusion by saying the political extremes had anti-Semitics in their ranks.

Mireille Knoll, center, with her son Daniel and grand daughter Jessica. (Daniel Knoll via AP)

“They should first clean out their own house,” he said.

The bid to exclude the two political chieftains was firmly opposed by Knoll’s son Daniel.

Le Pen and Melenchon, political rivals and not in the same spot in the march, both were pushed and insulted with cries of “get out!” and “go home!” Shouts of “Nazi” were hurled at Le Pen, whose father and the founder of her National Front Party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has been convicted of anti-Semitism and racism. She has since broken ties with the elder Le Pen.

Le Pen’s body guard and her entourage formed a protective ring around her before riot police cut a corridor for her to leave.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen arrives to attend a silent march to honor Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old woman stabbed to death in her Paris apartment, in Paris, France, Wednesday, March 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Noting that Knoll’s son, Daniel, had said he wanted to encourage national unity and that everyone “without exception” was welcome at the march, Le Pen said of the insults: “I find the behavior here undignified toward the family.”

“Her son said he wanted everyone there, so we are here,” she said.

Daniel Knoll, looking sad and tired, later bemoaned the hateful divisions at a march meant to unite.

“Today, we all should have been united, all of France,” he said on BFM-TV. “Who cares which party? I could care less … It’s inadmissible.”

Melenchon said “we did our duty” by coming to show compassion, adding that the real subject of the march was “this woman killed barbarically.”

The march followed Knoll’s funeral, where President Emmanuel Macron had showed up unannounced. The president had already mentioned Knoll in a speech at a military ceremony to honor a gendarme as a national hero for saving the lives of hostages in an Islamic extremist attack last week. Macron decried the “barbaric” views that fueled Knoll’s killing as well as the extremist who killed four people in a rampage in southern France.

Knoll’s attacker, he said, “murdered an innocent and vulnerable woman because she was Jewish, and in doing so profaned our sacred values and our history.”

Earlier Wednesday, vandals scrawled anti-Israel graffiti and ransacked the offices of a Jewish student group at the University of Paris’ Pantheon-Sorbonne campus. Sacha Ghozlan, president of the French Jewish Students Union, said it was unclear who was behind it.

Prosecutors have filed preliminary charges against two people for murder with anti-Semitic motives in Knoll’s slaying, including a neighbor Knoll had hosted regularly, according to her son.

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.

Mireille Knoll was forced to flee Paris with her family at age 9 to escape a notorious World War II roundup of Jews. After the war she returned to Paris and spent most of her life in the eastern Paris apartment where she was killed, according to her son.

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum urged French and European officials to “redouble efforts to combat the rise in anti-Semitism plaguing much of the continent.”

France’s government presented a plan earlier this month to fight racism and anti-Semitism, focusing on social media and prevention in schools.

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