Little did the firefighters in Paris, France, realize the national crisis they would bring to light when they were called out to an apartment blaze on Friday, March 23, 2018. The conflagration was in a block in the 11th Arrondissement, a cosmopolitan district to the east of the French capital’s center. When the firefighters accessed the address they were confronted by a horrific scene. They found the burnt body of Mireille Knoll, the apartment’s 85-year-old resident. It was later discovered that she had been stabbed 11 times. However, despite the fact that the grandmother had been mutilated and set alight, there was arguably an even more chilling aspect to the crime.
Mireille was a Jew, and that was a most important and poignant fact, considering the unhappy history of people of that faith in French history. Born in Paris on December 28, 1932, Mireille was just a young girl when the Nazis invaded France in May 1940. Her home town surrendered to Adolf Hitler’s forces without a fight on June 14. It would have terrible consequences for citizens of the French capital, but a tragic outcome for many of its Jewish population.
It is estimated that France had a population of some 330,000 Jews in 1939, their numbers swollen by refugees who had fled Nazi persecution in Germany. A further 10,000 had arrived in France in early 1940 after the Nazis had invaded the Netherlands and Belgium. By September of that year, something like 150,000 Jewish people were living in Paris, according to Nazi figures.