Thousands attend Simone Veil’s burial in Paris Panthéon

Revered politician only fourth woman to be honoured in her own right with hero’s burial

President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the burial ceremony of the late French politician and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil and her husband, Antoine, at the Panthéon in Paris. Photograph: Ludovic Marin


Thousands gathered in Paris on Sunday to pay tribute to Simone Veil, the Holocaust survivor and women’s rights defender, as she was given the rare honour of a burial at the Panthéon, the resting place of France’s greats.

Crowds applauded and some wore “merci Simone” images to mark the opening up of the male-dominated secular mausoleum of heroes of French nationhood to a modern woman who was also a symbol of the deportation of Jews during the second world war.

Veil, who became one of France’s most revered politicians and a president of the European parliament, was known for her battle as health minister to legalise contraception and abortion in France in the face of bitter opposition. She also secured improved rights for prisoners and children in the care system. On the European stage, she continually pushed for an inclusive European Union as a way of never reliving the horrors of the past.

After her death last year, hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions to have Veil’s remains transferred to the Panthéon. Veil is only the fourth woman to be honoured in her own right among the 72 men in the imposing building, over the door of which is written “The nation thanks its great men”.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, in a speech on the Panthéon’s steps, said Veil’s burial there marked the entry “of generation of women who made France without the nation ever giving them the recognition or freedom that was due to them. Today, through her, justice is done for all of them.”

He said Veil’s place in the Panthéon also marked the memory of the Jews deported and sent to their deaths during the second world war: “In Simone Veil, at last the memory of those racial deportees, as she herself said, those 78,500 Jews and gypsies deported from France, enters [the Panthéon] and lives in this place.”

Veil was 16 when she was arrested by the French Gestapo in Nice and deported along with family members to Auschwitz-Birkenau – her mother, father and brother were killed in the Holocaust. She was one of few survivors.

On her left arm, Veil forever bore the mark of concentration camp number allocated to her, which one senior French official later mockingly told her resembled a cloakroom number.

Macron said that number, 78651, was the mark of Veil’s “untouchable dignity”. He said: “It will be engraved on her sarcophagus, just as it was tattooed on her teenage skin.”

Veil said it was her experiences in the Nazi concentration camps that made her a firm believer in the unification of Europe. “The fact that we have built Europe has reconciled me with the 20th century” despite living with the trauma of the Holocaust, she once said.

The blue carpet lain out in front of the Panthéon was chosen as a colour of peace and of Europe.

Veil’s husband, Antoine, a high-ranking civil servant who died in 2013, will be buried alongside her.

Source :

the guardian

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