An 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, whose killing last week in Paris is being investigated as an anti-Semitic hate crime, was remembered by local officials in an event at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta March 29.
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul and the consuls general of France and Israel were among those who spoke at the MJCCA’s Besser Holocaust Memorial Garden in memory of Mireille Knoll. Some called for tighter hate crime and hate speech laws.
“What is it about the human condition that makes people carry misdirected, irrational hate?” asked Paul, adding, “We cannot allow hate speech to continue because what we say and what we think ultimately manifests as behavior.”
“We are here today because we cannot tolerate the intolerable,” Paul said. Speaking before a section of the memorial engraved with the words, “We remember,” he recalled the history of the Holocaust and vowed, “Never again. Never again. Never again.”
Ambassador Judith Varnai-Shorer, the consul general of Israel in Atlanta, said that history shows that standing by idly during times of hate is “not an option.”
“Let us also pledge as individuals to carry out the final charge of our mission to engage,” she said. “Do not let ignorance go unchecked.”
According to media reports, Knoll was stabbed to death in her apartment, which was then set on fire. Two men are under investigation for the killing on charges of hate-motivated murder and theft. French authorities have released few details about the suspects, but indicated Knoll may have been targeted as a Jew.
Louis de Corail, the consul general of France in Atlanta, noted that Knoll’s killing came shortly after an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack on a supermarket in southern France. In that attack, the dead included a police officer who traded himself for a civilian hostage.
“These two attacks are two sides of the same evil,” said De Corail. “Terrorism and anti-Semitism go hand-in-hand.”
He cited French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent statement that “anti-Semitism is the dishonor of France” and said the country plans to tighten laws against hate speech online.
The event was organized by the American Jewish Committee’s Atlanta branch, which is based in Buckhead. Its director, Dov Wilker, said incidents like Knoll’s killing should push people to seek action and make sure elected officials do not just pay “lip service.” He promoted several federal bills relating to hate crimes and anti-Semitism, with more information available at ajc.org/takeaction, and also noted that Georgia’s General Assembly appears unlikely to pass a hate crimes law, one version of which was introduced this year by state Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Brookhaven).
“Who would think in 2018 we would be talking about people being murdered because they are Jewish?” asked Wilker. “This is not just a Jewish issue. This is an issue about our values,” he added, raising the question of whether society will welcome everyone, including not only Jews, but all minorities.
The MJCCA’s Rabbi Brian Glusman noted the event came on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover, where the traditional meal includes an egg. He noted that, when boiled, an egg becomes tougher. “We learn from moments like this that we need to be more like that egg,” he said.
Also speaking was Jeffrey Silverstein of the AJC’s ACCESS Atlanta young adults group. Using the Hebrew term for the Holocaust, he said the incident shows that “to survive the Shoah is not an act that takes place in the past tense,” but rather an ongoing advocacy effort.
About 20 people attended the public event held at the MJCCA on Tilly Mill Road in Dunwoody. Other officials in attendance included representatives from the Atlanta consulates of Germany, Ireland and Japan.
Knoll’s killing sparked thousands to march in Paris against hate and extremism earlier this week. In New York City, the main AJC and the World Jewish Congress held similar observances.