24 Days: The Kidnapping and Murder of Ilan Halimi

Ruth Halimi's account of her family's horrific ordeal, one of the most infamous cases involving anti-Semitism in French society since the notorious Dreyfus Affair a century earlier
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We have Ilan  . . . We demand 450,000 euros to release him alive . . .

Why would anybody kidnap a young cell-phone salesman living with his mother and sisteer in a working class neighborhood in Paris? In this searing memoir, Ilan Halimi's mohter, Ruth, recounts the twenty-four days of her son's captivity, as the French police scramble to find him while his kidnappers' messages grow more erratic and the hreats against him more dire.

As other attempted kidnappings come to light, she suddenly realizes what these cases have in common: all the intended victims are Jewish.

24 Days is a wake-up call to the growing scourge of anti-Semitism, extremism, and hate around the world. Ruth Halimi's courage and tenacity in the face of Ilna's brutal kidnapping and murder challenge each of us to oppose hatred in every interation. The foreword by Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, is an urgent warning about the steep cost of intolerance today. And why wemust stamp it out--now.

RUTH HALIMI is the mother of Ilan Halimi, whose kidnap and murder in 2006 by an anti-Semitic gang in France sparked an outcry and outrage around the world.

EMILIE FRECHE is a French writer committed to the fight against racism and anti-Semitism.

RENUKA GEORGE is a translator, editor, and documentary filmmaker who has translated many books and articles in the social sciences and literature.

“This is not only my son Ilan’s story.  I want it to be published to remind people of what hatred and intolerance can do, hatred for the other, intolerance of what we see as different. Given the world we live in today, we have to remember that we are all people, and we are the same, regardless of our beliefs. Otherwise, there will be very dark times ahead.”
                                                   ─Ruth Halimi, author of 24 Days 

─Ruth Halimi, author of 24 Days 


“This book reads like a detective novel. The difference is that it is true and the ending is tragic beyond belief. Many people, when analyzing the rise in contemporary anti-Semitism, forget that so much of it began with Ilan Halimi. The book is riveting and, though one knows the ending, as I read it, I found myself hoping against hope for a different outcome.”

                    ─Deborah E. Lipstadt, Author of Anti-Semitism: Here and Now and Professor of Holocaust Studies, Emory University


“Let us lock arms with Ruth Halimi and every other parent who has lost a son or a daughter to cruelty and hate.”

                   ─Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO, Anti-Defamation League


“Ruth and Emilie’s vivid memoir of those fateful twenty-four days is etched on the collective Jewish memory of Europe. This poignant book comes to remind us that we must act soon before anti-Semitism and hatred consume not only Europe’s Jews but Europe itself.”

                  ─Dr. Moshe Kantor, President, European Jewish Congress


“Ilan’s death marks the tragic revival of murderous anti-Semitism in France. His name has become the symbol of France’s determination to fight anti-Semitism.”

                  ─Edouard Philippe, Prime Minister of France

Why the World Needs to Remember Ilan Halimi

By Jonathan A. Greenblatt

Fourteen long years have passed since the murder of Ilan Halimi, the young French cellphone salesman who was kidnapped and held for ransom in a basement in a Paris suburb where he was starved, tortured and beaten for 24 days before his captors gave up their depraved plan to cash in on a young Jewish life.

The memory of this horrific event – seared for a time on the consciousness of France – has been fading in the wake of the murders of 10 more French Jews in anti-Semitic attacks in the intervening years. But we cannot let the world forget the tale of Ilan Halimi, both for the warning it provides about the lethality of anti-Semitism, and for the message his torture and death sends about the twisted allure, power and endurance of anti-Semitic canards.

In Ilan’s case, his undoing wasn’t the beautiful woman who lured him into a deathtrap. It was a single stereotype: Jews are wealthy and horde their money. Ilan’s kidnappers, a self-proclaimed “Gang of Barbarians,” believed that Ilan’s family and the Jewish community would turn over these untold riches in exchange for their son.

But Ilan’s working-class family had nowhere near the fortune demanded by the “Gang of Barbarians.” Through ignorance and anti-Semitism, the kidnappers found themselves in a position of having committed a terrible crime but without any chance of reward, and they took out that frustration on him. Ilan’s family found themselves victims of the age-old stereotype of Jews and money, but without the means to ransom their son.

I remember reading about this terrible crime when it happened, long before I entered Jewish communal life. Reading about Ilan’s horrific fate felt like a dagger plunged into my soul. When I started at ADL, I intentionally prioritized France. It was the first country that I visited outside the U.S. and Israel. With the help of CRIF, French Jewry’s representative organization, I was able to meet Ilan’s mother, Ruth Halimi.

It was a wrenching and emotional conversation, but Ruth’s courage and strength were inspiring. As a parent, it is hard to imagine losing a child, let alone in such an unspeakable manner. And yet, Ruth’s quiet fortitude was palpable. She had suffered so much, grieved for so long, and yet she carried her painful burden with solemnity and strength.

We spoke for several hours. At the end of our conversation, when I asked her if there was anything that ADL could do to help her, she handed me a large manila envelope. It contained her manuscript. She looked me straight in the eye and squeezed my hand. Ruth asked me to share her story. I couldn’t look away. I promised that I would do so.

Three years later, it is truly a privilege to be able to make good on that promise and honor Ruth’s request.

The story of Ilan’s kidnapping and the harrowing weeks that followed is recounted by Ruth in her gripping memoir “24 Days,” which was published in France nearly three years after her son’s death and was later turned into a French-language film of the same title. As we observe the 14th anniversary of his death this week, “24 Days” will be available for the first time in bookstores in the U.S, in a new translation authorized by Ms. Halimi and co-published by ADL and Behrman House, on Feb. 13.

Why is the retelling of his story important for American audiences? Because we recently have seen in America what can happen when anti-Semitic tropes about wealth, secret control of governments, and treacherousness are taken by anti-Semites to their seemingly logical conclusion -- if the Jews are so powerful and malignant, then something must be done to stop them.

During the past three years we have seen this conclusion lead to violence against Jews in America, where we had thought, perhaps wrongly, that we were immune to the disease of violent anti-Semitism that had plagued France.

The Pittsburgh synagogue shooter was a white supremacist who believed that Jews were plotting to flood America with immigrants, thus diluting what he perceived as its dominant white culture. The Poway synagogue shooting, six months to the day after the Pittsburgh attack, was committed by another hateful gunman who fulminated online about his hatred for Jews and all non-Christians. The shooting in Jersey City was committed by a homicidal maniac who claimed that Jews were not authentic but instead somehow related to a “synagogue of Satan,” a vile slur used by Louis Farrakhan for years.

As she recounts her son’s ordeal in “24 Days,” Ruth Halimi points to these and other events in America, showing the line from her son’s death to these episodes. She writes, “This is not only my son Ilan’s story. I want it to be published to remind people of what hatred and intolerance can do, hatred for the other, intolerance of what we see as different. Given the world we live in today, we have to remember that we are all people, regardless of our beliefs. Otherwise, there will be very dark times ahead.”

Today, I’m proud to say that we have delivered on my commitment to Ruth. I hope this new English-language edition of her book will help keep Ilan’s memory alive, and also serve as a warning to us all.  Ilan’s story is more than a tragic episode in Jewish or French history. His fate shows the deadly consequences that can occur anywhere, or to anyone, when hatred is left unchecked.   

Jonathan A. Greenblatt is CEO and National Director of ADL (the Anti-Defamation League).