Auschwitz survivor and feminist icon Simone Veil, 89, died on Friday in her home, according to her son Jean Veil. Veil, a former French health minister who championed legalization of abortion in her country and served as the first elected president of the European parliament, was hailed by French President Emmanuel Macron as “the best of what France can achieve.”
Born Simone Jacob in Nice on July 13, 1927, Veil’s father, mother, and brother were all killed in Nazi death camps after Germany occupied France. Veil was deported to Auschwitz in 1944, but she and her two sisters managed to survive the war. After the war, Veil went onto study law, became a judge, and married her husband, Antoine Veil, with whom she would have three children. Known for her unwavering moral compass, Veil would be named as the country’s health minister in the 1974. As health minister, she championed a bill to legalize abortion and famously endured a 25-hour debate in which lawmakers mocked and abused her while comparing abortion to the Holocaust.
“I never imagine the hatred I would unleash,” Veil later recalled of the response to her push to legalize abortion. Thanks to her unrelenting efforts, abortion was legalized in France on January 17, 1975. Four years later, Veil would become the first elected president of the European Parliament after she led efforts to form a more united European government.
Leaders in France, and across Europe, offered the condolences for the loss of a figure who “embodied dignity, courage, and moral rectitude.”
“She suffered personally from the tragic tearing asunder of Europe and managed, through her political engagement, to help build sustained peace in Europe,” wrote European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker in a letter to Macron.
Despite Veil’s frequent denunciations of the far-right National Front, a party famous for its history of anti-Semitism, even National Front leader Marine Le Pen offered her respects, saying that Veil had “undeniably left her mark on French political life.”
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