Rights icon Si­mone Veil se­cures cov­eted place in the Pan­theon

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

PARIS:

French Holo­caust sur­vivor and rights icon Si­mone Veil, who died last week aged 89, will re­ceive the rare honor of be­ing in­ducted into the Pan­theon, Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron an­nounced at her fu­neral yes­ter­day. Veil will be­come only the fifth woman to be laid to rest in the Paris mon­u­ment, which houses the re­mains of great na­tional fig­ures, and only the fourth to be al­lo­cated a spot on her own mer­its. She will join Pol­ish-born French sci­en­tist Marie Curie; two French Re­sis­tance mem­bers who were de­ported to Ger­many, Genevieve de Gaulle-An­tho­nioz and Ger­maine Til­lion; and So­phie Berth­elot, who was buried along­side her chemist hus­band Mar­cellin Berth­elot.

Among the other lu­mi­nar­ies buried in the sec­u­lar mau­soleum are writ­ers Voltaire, Vic­tor Hugo and Emile Zola. Veil was de­ported to Auschwitz in 1944 while still a teenager. She sur­vived the con­cen­tra­tion camps that claimed the lives of her mother, father and brother, and went on to be­come an in­de­fati­ga­ble crusader for women’s rights and Euro­pean rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Her big­gest po­lit­i­cal achieve­ment was push­ing through a law to le­galise abor­tion in France in 1974 in the face of fierce op­po­si­tion. Sev­eral hun­dred dig­ni­taries, rel­a­tives and friends at­tended her fu­neral yes­ter­day at the In­valides mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal and mu­seum in Paris.

Draped in the French tri­color, her cof­fin was borne into the mu­seum’s court­yard by mem­bers of the Repub­li­can Guard and set down on the cob­bles on a wooden bier. Macron told the mourn­ers he would be­stow the Pan­theon honor on her and her hus­band An­toine, who died in 2013, to show “the im­mense grat­i­tude of the French peo­ple to one of its most loved chil­dren.”“You brought into our lives that light that burned within you and which no­body could ever take away,” he said. Born Si­mone Ja­cob in the Mediter­ranean city of Nice on July 13, 1927, Veil was ar­rested by the Gestapo in March 1944 and de­ported to Auschwitz with one of her sis­ters and her mother Yvonne.

The two girls, who were put to work in a con­cen­tra­tion camp, sur­vived-as did an­other sis­ter who was de­ported for her part in the French Re­sis­tance. Her mother suc­cumbed to ty­phoid in Belsen just be­fore that camp was lib­er­ated in 1945, and her father and brother were last seen on a train of de­por­tees bound for Lithua­nia. “Sixty years later I am still haunted by the im­ages, the odors, the cries, the hu­mil­i­a­tion, the blows and the sky filled with the smoke of the cre­ma­to­ri­ums,” she said in a TV in­ter­view broad­cast in 2005. Re­flect­ing on her fa­mously res­o­lute char­ac­ter in a eu­logy yes­ter­day, her son Jean Veil said: “That de­ter­mi­na­tion was the back­bone the ar­mor that helped you sur­vive hell.”

Land­mark abor­tion law

Af­ter the war Veil stud­ied law and met her hus­band An­toine Veil, with whom she had three chil­dren. A mem­ber of the cen­tre-right Union for French Democ­racy, she was named health min­is­ter in 1974 and led a bat­tle that marked her gen­er­a­tion: the le­gal­i­sa­tion of abor­tion. Veil led the charge in the Na­tional Assem­bly, where she braved a volley of in­sults, some of them liken­ing preg­nancy ter­mi­na­tions to the Nazis’ treat­ment of Jews.

The leg­is­la­tion, named the “Loi Veil” (Veil Law), is to­day con­sid­ered a cor­ner­stone of women’s rights and sec­u­lar­ism in France. In 1979, she be­come the first elected pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. In­stantly rec­og­niz­able by her hair, which she al­ways wore in a sleek bun, and her Chanel suits, she was con­sis­tently voted one of France’s most trusted public fig­ures. In later life, she headed up the French Foun­da­tion for pre­serv­ing the mem­ory of the Shoah, or Holo­caust.— AFP

PARIS: French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron (right) stands in front of the flag-draped cof­fin of Si­mone Veil dur­ing a solemn fu­neral cer­e­mony, in the court­yard of the In­valides in Paris yes­ter­day. — AP

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