« Simone Veil fut cette éclaireur de la République »
July 9, 2017 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Simone Veil, Auschwitz survivor, Health Minister, first directly elected President of the European Parliament, French Academician, passed away on June 30. She is best remembered in France as the woman who legalised abortion with the law still known today as Loi Veil.

She was born Simone Jacob in Nice in 1927, the youngest of four children. Her family was non-practicing Jewish, and in 1944, right after Simone sat the Baccalauréat, they were arrested by the Gestapo and sent to the internment camp of Drancy, near Paris.

Her brother and her father were sent away on a convoy whose trace ends up in Lituania and Estonia. She only learnt of their fate in the 1990s. She, with her mother and Madeleine, one of her sisters, were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. She lied and told the guards she was older than 18, to avoid being exterminated outright. Her other sister Denise joined the Resistance and was sent to Ravensbrück after being arrested.

Near the end of the war, she was led onto a death march to Bergen-Belsen. Her mother didn't survive the effort, dying of typhus in March 1945. Madeleine was only saved by the arrival of the Allies.

After the end of the war, she went back to Paris and learnt that she passed the Bacccalauréat. She started studying law and met Antoine Veil, whom she married in 1946.

In 1956, she passed the highly competitive exam to become a magistrate. In 1974, she became Health Minister and presented to the Parliament the law that would bear her name. It allows women to abort until 10 weeks, and earned her threats and insults, including comparisons to death camps, mostly from her own party.

In 1979, she was elected President of the European Parliament, the first since the switch to direct elections, then spent several years working in the European Parliament.

From 1993 to 1995, she became Health Minister again, meeting with AIDS victims, first in her official capacity, then as an ordinary volunteer.

In 1998, she became a member of the Conseil constitutionnel, the French institution that makes sure that laws conform to the Constitution.

In 2008, she was elected to the 13th seat of the French Academy (Jean Racine's and Paul Claudel's).

She passed away on June 30, shortly before her 90th birthday. Two petitions were started almost immediately after the announcement of her death to have her interred in the Pantheon. National homage was given to her on July 5 by President Macron, who announced that she would be laid to rest in the Panthéon with her husband, becoming the fourth woman to lay there of her own right.
posted by snakeling (20 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 "It is not your responsibility to finish the work*, but you are not free to desist from it either"
- Rabbi Tarfon, Pirkei Avot

Mme Veil's life is a living exemplar of this motto.


* of perfecting the world
posted by lalochezia at 11:06 AM on July 9 [13 favorites]

Thank you for the knowledge bomb.

posted by offalark at 11:08 AM on July 9

posted by Joe in Australia at 11:33 AM on July 9


And two days shy of a year after Elie Wiesel passed.

posted by JohnFromGR at 11:49 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]

posted by Emily's Fist at 11:59 AM on July 9

Holy wow, what a life!

posted by lazaruslong at 12:12 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]

posted by praemunire at 12:19 PM on July 9

posted by threetwentytwo at 12:24 PM on July 9

In 1979, when faced with a group of Front National supporters -- including Jean-Marie Le Pen -- trying to disrupt a meeting at which she was speaking in Paris, she shouted:

« Vous ne me faites pas peur ! J'ai survécu à pire que vous ! Vous n'êtes que des SS au petit pied ! »

"You do not frighten me! I have survived worse than you! You are only some petty SS!

Vox link (scroll down for video)
posted by andrewesque at 12:46 PM on July 9 [16 favorites]


Not to be confused with the philosopher Simone Weil, even though their names are pronounced identically, a confusion into which I almost invariably fall.
posted by languagehat at 12:54 PM on July 9 [9 favorites]

posted by dialMforMara at 1:06 PM on July 9

posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:09 PM on July 9

posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:26 PM on July 9

posted by librarylis at 6:09 PM on July 9

posted by shoesietart at 7:54 PM on July 9

posted by Mister Bijou at 2:51 AM on July 10

« Vous ne me faites pas peur ! J'ai survécu à pire que vous ! Vous n'êtes que des SS au petit pied ! »
"You do not frighten me! I have survived worse than you! You are only some petty SS!

It sounds like an idiom like "little feet" is what's translated as "petty", which seems like a much better insult.
posted by thelonius at 3:08 AM on July 10

It sounds like an idiom like "little feet" is what's translated as "petty", which seems like a much better insult.

Yep -- I couldn't find any already translated versions of that last sentence in a quick search online (which I would have preferred to use), so I did an on-the-fly version myself.

Au petit pied, which does literally mean "at small feet," has a range of meanings such as "miniature", "small-scale", "minor", "petty", "small time", "run of the mill" -- clearly in this case Veil meant to be dismissive so I tried to find one with a more negative connotation. Unfortunately "small feet" or "little feet" is not an equivalent English expression, otherwise I'd've gone with that!
posted by andrewesque at 6:31 AM on July 10

posted by supercrayon at 6:46 AM on July 10

She was a staunch opponent of the National Front, he says, from its creation until the end of her life.

But when she ran for the European parliament in the early 1980s, she began to clearly, vocally connect her desire to build a united Europe with the horrors of the Holocaust.

She set out to work for the European Economic Community — which later became the European Union. She became the first president of the European parliament.

“Her uncompromising humanism, wrought by the horror of the camps, made her the constant ally of the weakest, and the resolute enemy of any political compromise with the extreme right”

A very large .

I have not suffered as she did. I hope to achieve a tenth of what she has.

., Simone Veil. The decent world applauds.
posted by iffthen at 9:45 AM on July 10

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