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Murder Of Elderly Jewish French Woman Triggers Demonstrations

Mar 29, 2018
Originally published on April 2, 2018 6:04 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Thousands of people were marching in the streets of Paris last night to say enough is enough to anti-Semitic crimes in France. This march was set off by the killing of an elderly Jewish woman last week by two young men. It's being investigated as a hate crime. Here's more from NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The silent march started at Place de la Nation and ended at 85-year-old Mireille Knoll's apartment. That's where her partially charred body was found with stab wounds. The killing has horrified France, especially as Knoll as a 9-year-old girl escaped a World War II roundup of Jews in Paris. Sophie Gorins is not Jewish, but she's marching with a yellow Star of David on her coat.

SOPHIE GORINS: Ten years ago, there was a Jewish who was murdered because people thought he was rich, he had money. And he was tortured during 21 days. I did the march for him. I hoped I would never have to wear it again and sad enough I am wearing it today.

BEARDSLEY: There has been a rise in anti-Semitic crimes in France in recent years. Many say the government isn't doing enough. Some Jews say they don't feel safe. Like many of the men here, 30-year-old Loic Pawlickowski is wearing a yarmulke. But he says he usually doesn't. Wearing the Jewish skullcap can expose you to harassment. Pawlickowski says, wearing it as a boy, he was attacked.

So who attacked you when you were a child?

LOIC PAWLICKOWSKI: Muslim. There are only Muslim that attack us. It's not the French people or Catholic people, no.

BEARDSLEY: People here say it is certain young Muslim youths perpetrating the anti-Semitic acts. They say hatred for Jews is rampant in many of the poor immigrant neighborhoods and housing projects where the kids grow up. A year ago, another Jewish woman was murdered. Though her killer was high on drugs, he yelled verses from the Quran as he hit her and exclaimed that he was killing the devil. Many here compare Knoll's murder with the killing of a gendarme in a terrorist attack last week. Pierre LaVie (ph) and Elisabeth Canne (ph) say the murders have the same root cause.

PIERRE LAVIE: The same big thing. The whole radical Islam and political Islam thing is something we've not addressed yet.

ELISABETH CANNE: I think that France right now needs to reaffirm its values, and from all citizens from all religions. So being here is like a first step.

BEARDSLEY: Two politicians who came out to the march were booed and had to leave - Jean-Luc Melenchon from the far left, who speaks critically of Israel, and Marine Le Pen, whose National Front party has anti-Semitic roots. People here say both politicians are divisive and peddle hatred.

SAMYA ISSABA: It's not feminist. It's not feminist. We're a group struggling against racism and anti-Semitism.

BEARDSLEY: I meet members of a new group made up of Jewish, Catholic and Muslim women. They say a new approach is needed. Muslim Samya Issaba says women can help change attitudes by reaching out to other women in the disadvantaged Muslim neighborhoods where casual anti-Semitism is common.

ISSABA: So we have to educate in the school, but also in the families, and if we help mother and women to educate their children for tolerance and respect.

BEARDSLEY: Issaba says they recently took a group of Muslim women and mothers to Auschwitz. They plan to take another group next year. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.