“Following the example of the Righteous, I want to believe that moral strength and individual conscience can always prevail.”
Simone Veil was born in Nice, France, in 1927 in a non-religious Jewish family. Daughter of Yvonne and André Jacob, she had two sisters and one brother, and was the youngest of a family of six.
The first years of her life were spent in happy familial serenity on the Côte d’Azur. Those carefree years were brought to an end when World War II broke out in Europe. The Vichy regime under Maréchal Pétain enacted a series of anti-Jewish laws, and Simone´s father was not allowed to work anymore.
Despite the anti-Semitic climate, and against the recommendations of her parents, Simone managed to finish school and successfully complete her baccalauréat in March 1944. On the 30th of March 1944, a few days later, she was arrested by the German authorities. She was 16 years old. Her parents and siblings were also arrested on that same day. Simone was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, together with her mother and one sister, Madeleine. They were later transferred to Bergen-Belsen, where her mother Yvonne died of typhus shortly before the camp´s April 15, 1945 liberation. Her father and brother, last known to have been sent to Lithuania, also died in the camps and Simone never saw them again. Her other sister, Denise, a member of the resistance, was also arrested in 1944 and was deported to Ravensbück, which she survived.
Simone was back in Paris in May 1945, where she started her degree in Law and Political science at the Institut d´études politiques and the Université de Paris. She met her future husband, Antoine Veil, there. They were married in 1946 and had three children together. Simone Veil became a magistrate a few years later and entered the Ministry of Justice, where she was responsible for judicial affairs and improved women´s prison conditions and the treatment of incarcerated women. She then later became Minister of Health in 1974 under the Presidency of Valéry Giscard d´Estaing.
Previously publicly unknown, she was, as soon as she took office, in charge of presenting a law decriminalizing abortion. She presented the abortion bill at the National Assembly on 26 November 1974 and her fight for the bill was followed by fierce opposition and confrontation. She received attacks and threats from all parts of the population as well as some parts of the Parliamentary right. However, this didn’t stop her: “I would firstly like to share with you a woman´s certitude. No woman resorts to abortion with light-heartedness”. On 29 November 1974, the bill was voted on at the National Assembly with 284 in favour and 189 in contra. Finally, on 17 January 1975, the Loi Veil, as it will later be known, came into force and Simone Veil will be remembered by many as a courageous and determined woman.
She will also be remembered as the first woman elected President of the European Parliament in 1979 until 1982. As a former Auschwitz deportee, her election carried a powerful weight. She was vehemently “pro-Europe” and devoted herself to expand the European Union and reinforce the authority of the Parliament.
She then became Minister of Health and Social and Urban Affairs in 1993 and member of the Constitutional Council between 1998 and 2007. Outside of the political life, she had also been President of the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah and entered the prestigious Académie Française in 2010. She passed away on the 30 June 2017, at the age of 89.
By Teresa Iglesias, WAVE Intern
Bosc, Julien, and Claire A. Poinsignon. “Simone Veil Est Morte à L’âge De 89 Ans.” ARTE Info, 30 June 2017, info.arte.tv/fr/simone-veil-une-vie-apres-auschwitz.
“Biographie de Simone Veil” franceculture.fr, France Culture, https://www.franceculture.fr/personne-simone-veil.html#biography
“Simone Veil : Une Vie De Combats.” Franceinfo, Franceinfo, 30 June 2017, www.francetvinfo.fr/politique/simone-veil/simone-veil-une-vie-de-combats_2262629.html.
“Simone Veil.” Simone Veil, Accessed on the 04.04.2018, simoneveil.fr/