Family members, friends and France’s president have honoured 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 historical anti-Semitism and its resurgence in some quarters in recent years.
President Emmanuel Macron decried the “barbaric” views that fuelled an Islamic extremist’s supermarket hostage-taking last week as well as Ms Knoll’s killing.
In a speech at the 19th-century Invalides monument on Wednesday, Mr Macron said Ms Knoll’s attacker “murdered an innocent and vulnerable woman because she was Jewish, and in doing so profaned our sacred values and our history”.
Later, Mr Macron made a surprise appearance at Ms Knoll’s funeral ceremony in the Jewish section of the cemetery in the Paris suburb of Bagneux, where sombre-faced guests gathered to pay their respects.
Silent marches are being held later on Wednesday around the country in her honour, and to denounce racism.
Far-right French leader Marine Le Pen is insisting on attending the Paris march despite criticism from France’s leading Jewish group.
The head of the CRIF Jewish organisation said Ms Le Pen’s National Front and members of the far left would not be welcome at the marches because of anti-Semitic sentiment among their members.
Ms Le Pen tweeted on Wednesday that the CRIF cannot stop her from attending.
She has sought to distance herself from the anti-Semitism that stained her party in the past, instead focusing anger on immigrants and Islamic extremists.
The National Front said it was maintaining its appeal to members to attend Wednesday’s marches because Ms Knoll’s son Daniel said “everyone, without exception” is welcome to join.
Speaking on RMC radio, Daniel Knoll said he wanted to encourage national unity and distanced himself from the CRIF’s political position.
“Whether it is a Jewish mother, a black mother, a Protestant mother, a Muslim mother, they are all our mothers. They have the right to live normally, with love,” he said.
Ms Knoll was killed on Friday in her apartment, which was then set on fire.
Prosecutors filed preliminary charges against two people for murder with anti-Semitic motives, including a neighbour Ms Knoll 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.
Speaking to the Associated Press on Tuesday, Daniel Knoll said: “My mother had a thirst for knowledge and meeting new people and talking to them, and that’s what killed her.”
Ms Knoll was forced to flee Paris with her family aged nine to escape a notorious World War Two round-up 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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