Soar­ing spirit born of Holo­caust

Townsville Bulletin - - LIFESTYLE -

SI­MONE Veil, a sur­vivor of Nazi death camps and a Euro­pean Par­lia­ment pres­i­dent who spear­headed abor­tion rights as one of France’s most prom­i­nent fe­male politi­cians, died on Fri­day at 89, her fam­ily said.

A funeral cer­e­mony with mil­i­tary honours would be held to­day at Les In­valides, site of Napoleon’s tomb, the pres­i­den­tial El­y­see Palace said. In a mea­sure of the na­tion’s es­teem for Veil, French flags will be dressed in black rib­bons and Euro­pean flags will fly at half- mast.

“May her ex­am­ple in­spire our com­pa­tri­ots,” Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron tweeted.

“France has lost a fig­ure that his­tory rarely pro­duces,” Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe said, as tributes to the cen­trist Veil poured in from across the political spec­trum.

Veil said it was her ex­pe­ri­ences in the Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps that made her a firm be­liever in the uni­fi­ca­tion of Europe.

“The idea of war was for me some­thing ter­ri­ble,” she told The Associated Press in a 2007 in­ter­view. “The only pos­si­ble op­tion was to make peace.”

Her own rise from a for­mer de­por­tee to the head of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment was a po­tent sym­bol of that sought- after peace, she said.

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, of­fer­ing con­do­lences in a mes­sage to Veil’s son, said she was “very grate­ful” for Veil’s com­mit­ment to Euro­pean uni­fi­ca­tion.

“We will also re­mem­ber her tire­less ... com­mit­ment to the sur­vivors of the Holo­caust, whose fate she shared,” Merkel wrote.

A two- time Cabi­net min­is­ter, Veil was best known in France for lead­ing the heated bat­tle to le­galise abor­tion in the 1970s. France’s abor­tion rights law is still known four decades later as the “Loi Veil,” and she called it her proud­est ac­com­plish­ment.

In a coun­try where many women are hes­i­tant to call them­selves fem­i­nists, Veil em­braced the la­bel. She saw her­self as an ad­vo­cate for the down­trod­den and de­voted much of her early ca­reer to im­prov­ing con­di­tions in French pris­ons.

Later, she be­came one of the most vis­i­ble faces of France’s dwin­dling com­mu­nity of Holo­caust sur­vivors and spoke pas­sion­ately about the need to keep the mem­ory alive.

Born Si­mone Ja­cob in the Mediter­ranean port of Nice on July 13, 1927, she was one of four chil­dren. Her fa­ther worked as an ar­chi­tect un­til a 1941 law by France’s col­lab­o­ra­tionist Vichy gov­ern­ment forced him – and other Jews – out of the pro­fes­sion.

In March 1944, the Gestapo ar­rested and de­ported Veil, her par­ents and all but one of her sib­lings. The 16- year- old Veil, her sis­ter and her mother ended up at the death camps at Auschwitz- Birke­nau.

Her fa­ther and brother were sent to a camp in a Baltic coun­try. They were never seen again.

“I found my­self thrown into a uni­verse of death, hu­mil­i­a­tion and bar­barism,” Veil wrote in the pref­ace to a 2005 book on the Holo­caust.

“I am still haunted by the im­ages, the odours, the screams, the hu­mil­i­a­tion, the blows and the sky, ashen with the smoke from the cre­ma­to­ri­ums.”

In 2010, Veil was in­ducted into the Academie Fran­caise, be­com­ing the sixth woman to join the guardian of the French lan­guage since it was founded in 1635.

– AP and Jenny Barch­field

CAM­PAIGNER: Si­mone Veil, the Auschwitz sur­vivor who be­came a tow­er­ing fig­ure in French pol­i­tics. Pic­ture: AFP

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