Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Simone Veil Is in the Panthéon

Simone Jacob Veil (b. 13 July 1927)

The French politician Simone Veil died on 30 June 2017, just days before her ninetieth birthday. 

Simone Jacob Veil
Born in Nice, the young Simone Jacob and her family were arrested by the Nazis in 1944.

After her arrest, she was sent, first, to Auschwitz, then later transported to Bergen-Belsen. She survived her ordeal in the concentration camp.

Simone Jacob met and married Antoine Veil after the war, while studying law and political science. Throughout her subsequent career, she worked in the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health, her work on behalf of women culminating in a 1975 landmark act legalizing abortion, a law now referred to as "Veil's Law.."

When faced by the opposition of male colleagues, many of whom compared abortion to Nazi concentration camps, she responded,
I will share a conviction of women, and I apologize for doing it in front of this assembly comprised almost exclusively of men: No woman resorts to abortion lightheartedly.
In 1979, Veil was elected to the European Parliament, where she served as its first president. She was also the president of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah, an organization devoted to Holocaust remembrance and research. 

After 1994, Veil returned to service in the French government--as Minister of State, Minister of Health, Minister of Social Affairs, and, then, in 1996, was appointed to the Constitutional Council of France.
President Emmanuel Macron paying homage
to Simone Veil at her funeral.

After Veil's death, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that she would be honored by interment in the Panthéon mausoleum.

Of the 80 French citizens recognized there for their distinguished service to the French Republic, she is only the fifth woman to be so honored. Other women buried in the Pantheon are Marie Curie, Nobel Prize winner; and Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz and Germaine Tillion, both members of the French resistance. (Although she died in 1956, Marie Curie was not entombed in the Panthéon until 1995.)

The first woman buried in the Panthéon, however, was Sophie Berthelot, buried alongside of her husband, a noted chemist. He died on 18 March 1907--several hours later, she died. Because the couple had asked that they never be separated, not even in death, the two were buried side-by-side in the Pantheon. Sophie Berthelot was the only woman in the Panthéon for nearly a century.

Update, 30 November 2021: In a ceremony ceremony performed some forty-six years after her death, Josephine Baker, the American-born entertainer who fought in the French Resistance, became the first black woman memorialized in the Panthéon (along with seventy-five men and five women). Recognizing her "courage and audacity," as well as her deep love for the country where she found "refuge" from the racial hatred she experienced in the U.S., President Emmanuel Macron declared, "Josephine is France."

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