Si­mone Veil, iconic Euro­pean fem­i­nist politi­cian, dies at 89

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OBITUARIES - BY AN­GELA CHARL­TON

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 Fri­day at 89, her fam­ily said.

A fu­neral cer­e­mony with mil­i­tary hon­ours is to be held on Wed­nes­day 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 — staff.

“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.

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 le­gal­ize 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.”

Young and healthy when she en­tered Birke­nau and with strik­ing ch­est­nut plaits, Veil caught the eye of a Pol­ish woman who helped run the camp. The woman took her aside, telling her in bro­ken French: “‘You are too pretty to die here. I am go­ing to find some way so you can sur­vive,”’ Veil told the AP.

The woman sent Veil, her mother and sis­ter to work at a Siemens fac­tory out­side the camp. Later, Veil was trans­ferred to work in an SS kitchen, where she was able to pil­fer bits of food for her mother.

Her ef­forts were in vain. Veil’s mother died of ty­phus at the Ber­gen — Belsen camp. Veil’s sis­ter sur­vived the camp, re­turn­ing to France along with Veil af­ter the war.

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