PARIS — Arnaud Beltrame was a 44-year-old police officer who sacrificed his life in a terrorist attack Friday. Mireille Knoll was an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor brutally killed in her Paris apartment the same day.
In an unusual spring chill, France on Wednesday commemorated both victims as the latest casualties in a struggle against terrorism and violent anti-Semitism.
The fallen officer received a state funeral and the posthumous distinction of commander of the Légion d’Honneur, one of France’s highest honors.
Later, tens of thousands gathered at the Place de la Nation to honor Knoll, marching through the streets wearing buttons and carrying signs with her picture.
Beltrame, a lieutenant colonel, volunteered to trade places with a hostage during a shootout at a supermarket in the southwestern French city of Trebes, part of an attack that killed four, including Beltrame.
Under the gilded shadow of Napoleon’s Tomb, French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday heralded the fallen officer as the embodiment of “the spirit of French resistance,” pronouncing his name in the company of towering figures such as Joan of Arc, Charles de Gaulle and Jean Moulin, a beloved French resistance fighter.
Arnaud acted in the service of “the ideals of France,” Macron said.
“We will prevail with the cohesion of a united nation,” he added.
The theme of national unity was an ambitious choice, given the apparent homegrown nature of these and other recent attacks on French citizens.
Knoll’s killing focused renewed attention on one of the darkest realities challenging a “united” France
France is home to Europe’s largest Jewish community, a community that receives considerable attention and protection from the state, especially in comparison with its European neighbors. Hate-speech laws criminalize Holocaust denial, and the government refuses to collect official statistics on race, religion or ethnicity, an effort to avert any repeat of the experience of World War II, when France collaborated with Nazi Germany.
Yet Jews are the targets of a disproportionate number of racially motivated hate crimes in France — nearly a quarter, although Jews constitute only 1 percent of the total French population. According to statistics collected by the Interior Ministry, 214 of the 950 incidents reported in 2017 were anti-Semitic in nature.
The crowd at the march for Knoll was diverse.
“I’m not Jewish — I’m Christian. But I’m here anyway,” said Béatrice Fletcher, 54, a receptionist who lives in the Paris suburbs and is originally from Liberia. “What I saw on television shocked me. It’s a duty to be here all together. I mean, I really felt like I was watching something that happened in a different country, not in France.”
Spotted in the crowd, Alain Finkielkraut, a prominent conservative intellectual who has commented extensively on France’s “new anti-Semitism,” noted that after previous anti-Semitic killings, almost all the protesters were from the Jewish community. “Many Jews felt abandoned by the national community as a whole,” he said. “But I believe today there will be people of all faiths here. That’s very important.”
A year before Knoll’s slaying, Sarah Halimi, a retired Orthodox doctor and kindergarten teacher, was killed in her Paris apartment, her body then hurled out a window. In 2012, three children and a teacher were murdered in an attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse. In 2006, Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old cellphone salesman, was tortured by gang members who assumed his middle-class parents could pay a hefty ransom because they were Jewish. Halimi’s charred body was found by the side of a road three weeks after his abduction.
In each of those cases, the suspected or convicted perpetrators had connections to Islamist networks or showed signs of radicalization. In his remarks Wednesday, Macron attempted to link Beltrame and Knoll as two victims of “underground Islamism that progresses through social networks.”
“The terrorist in Trebes, like the murderer of Mireille Knoll,” Macron said, “deny the value of life, debasing our sacred values and our memory.”