Family members of Mireille Knoll, the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor who was stabbed to death and set on fire in her Paris apartment on Friday night, told Israeli media on Tuesday she had known one of her assailants, a Muslim neighbor, since he was seven years old.
“My mother accepted everyone. Even the neighbor who murdered her, she has known since he was seven years old. When he was a boy, he helped her,” Knoll’s son Daniel told Army Radio.
“At first we weren’t sure [the murder] was due to anti-Semitism. We waited for police to say it, and now we know the truth,” he said. “Until now, I haven’t felt anti-Semitism in France. Of course there were dangerous Muslim extremists, but until today I didn’t feel in danger. I work with people from all walks of French society; many are afraid of Muslim extremists, but I didn’t feel that until now. Even today I’m not afraid. There are some who are uneducated, idiots, but they exist everywhere in the world.”
Noa Goldfarb, Knoll’s granddaughter who now lives in the sea-side Israeli town of Herzliya, also said her grandmother had known the suspect “since he was seven years old, and was always happy to see him. It’s unbelievable that it ended like this.”
In a Tuesday interview with Israel Radio, Goldfarb said, “Grandma didn’t believe in evil. That may be the reason she’s no longer with us.”
Daniel Knoll said he was told that the neighbor was identified by police because his mother’s phone was missing from the apartment and was later found in the suspect’s possession. A second suspect was also arrested by police.
On Tuesday morning, a French judicial source said the two suspects had been charged with the murder.
Police said Mireille Knoll had previously called police and complained that the neighbor had threatened to kill her.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said Monday that it was asking investigating judges to charge the pair with premeditated murder of a vulnerable person for anti-Semitic motives.
They face charges of “murder related to the victim’s religion, real or imagined” as well as aggravated robbery and destruction of property, judicial sources said.
The prosecutor’s office asked that the two be placed in preventive custody.
Israel’s Hadashot TV news reported on Monday that the primary suspect was previously jailed for sexually assaulting the daughter of a woman who helped look after Knoll.
The French foreign minister, who is visiting Israel, said Monday it was likely that the motive for her killing was anti-Semitic, and that his country must continue to fight against anti-Semitism.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, said he had a “moving and difficult moment” when he heard about “the outrageous murder” of Holocaust survivor Knoll just after ending his visit to Yad Vashem.
“We cannot yet say if the motive for the murder was anti-Semitism, but it is reasonable to assume,” Le Drian said on Monday, before prosecutors had announced anti-Semitism would be part of the indictment. “Therefore, this only strengthens the fact that this struggle has not ended, and that we will need to continue fighting against anti-Semitism.”
The chief rabbi of Paris, Haim Korsia, wrote on Twitter that he was “horrified” by the killing.
An autopsy conducted on Knoll, who lived alone, showed her charred body had at least 11 stab wounds. A forensic examination of the apartment showed that an arsonist started a fire in at least five distinct areas of that space.
Granddaughter Goldfarb suggested in a Facebook post over the weekend that the murder wasn’t an isolated incident.
“Twenty years ago, I left Paris knowing that neither my future nor that of the Jewish People is to be found there,” wrote Goldfarb. “But who would’ve thought that I was leaving my relatives where terrorism and cruelty would lead to such a tragedy. Grandmother was stabbed to death 11 times by a Muslim neighbor she knew well, who made sure to set fire to her home and left us not even one object, a letter, a photograph, to remember her by. All we have are our tears and each other.”
A Paris lawmaker who spoke with one of the woman’s sons said she had managed as a child to evade the notorious 1942 roundup of over 13,000 Jews in Paris during World War II.
Fewer than 100 of those who were detained at the so-called Vel d’Hiv cycling track and then sent to the Nazi death camps survived.
France’s half-a-million-plus Jewish community has voiced increasing concern over a rise in violent anti-Semitic acts.
“The barbarity of this murder sends us back to that of Sarah Halimi, just one year ago,” Francis Kalifat, president of the CRIF umbrella of French Jewish communities, said in a statement Monday.
Halimi was a 66-year-old Jewish teacher and physician, who prosecutors say was murdered by her Muslim neighbor in April partly in connection with her Jewish identity. Anti-Semitism was included in the indictment against Halimi’s suspected killer, Kobili Traore, 28, after the CRIF and the National Bureau for Vigilance against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, vocally protested its absence from the draft indictment.