Watch – France: Holocaust survivor and women’s rights defender Simone Veil is honored with Pantheon burial
Thousands of people gathered in Paris on Sunday to pay their final respects to Auschwitz survivor and women’s rights icon Simone Veil as she was given the rare honor of burial at the Pantheon a year and a day after she died.
Veil’s death at the age of 89 prompted an outpouring of emotion as she had long been considered one of France’s most popular and trusted public figures.
The Panthéon in the heart of Paris houses the remains of many great French figures, including Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Emile Zola. But Veil is only the fifth woman to be buried there, being laid to rest alongside her husband Antoine, a high-ranking civil servant who died in 2013.
As one of the more than 76,000 Jews deported from France to death camps during World War II, Veil appears on the Wall of Names at the Shoah Memorial, under her maiden name Simone Jacob. So do her father André, her mother Yvonne, her sister Madeleine and her brother Jean. Of the five, only Madeleine and Simone survived the Holocaust, though Madeleine would die in a car crash shortly after the war.
In France, Veil is best remembered as a tireless crusader for women’s rights.
Her successes included pushing for gender parity in matters of parental control and adoption rights. But her defining achievement, secured as health minister in 1975, was the law legalising abortion in France, which she pushed through a parliament composed almost exclusively of men, withstanding a deluge of sexist and anti-Semitic abuse.
“France loves Simone Veil and loves her for her struggles,” said French President Emmanuel Macron in a speech marking her induction into the Paris mausoleum.
“We wanted Simone Veil to enter the Panthéon without waiting for generations to pass so that her battles, her dignity and her hope remain a compass in these troubled times,” Macron said, adding that the memory of all those who were deported on racial grounds during the war would enter the mausoleum with her.
Among them was Ginette Kolinka, who met and befriended Veil in the horror of Auschwitz.
“She represents all the people who were deported, particularly those who didn’t make it back,” Kolinka said.
The Jewish people will forever remember her. May her memory be a blessing.