Simone Veil, an iconic French politician and Auschwitz survivor, passed away today in Paris at the age of 89.
Veil was instrumental in the 1975 law that legalized abortion in her home country of France and was the first woman chosen to be president of European Parliament. Her death was confirmed on social media by French President Emmanuel Macron.
The iconic French politician was born Simone Jacob to a Jewish architect in Nice. She was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau as a 17-year-old girl with her mother and sister. Veil lost both of her parents and brother in the Holocaust but survived both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen along with her sisters, Milou and Denise. Her father and brother were last seen on a transport to Lithuania. Her sister, Denise, evaded arrest and worked for the French resistance, but she eventually survived her imprisonment in Ravensbruck.
She and her sister, Milou, were two of 11 children who survived the camps out of the 400 deported from their region in Nice.
Simone Veil began her political career immediately after graduating from Institut d’etudes politiques de Paris, where she worked to improve the conditions of incarcerated women in France.
She rose to become the Minister of Health in France in 1974, where she helped make contraceptives more accessible for women. Although they had been legal since the late 1960s, they were still difficult to obtain, and Simone Veil made sure that all women who needed them were given access. She began the campaign to make birth control more easily accessible to French women in 1973, ensuring that the state reimbursed all women who required it.
In 1975, she championed the issue of abortion in France, helping make it legal. Although she faced adversity for pushing for legalization, the Loi Veil, as it is known, is considered one of the biggest achievements for both women’s rights and secularism in France.
In 1979, Veil became the president of the European parliament’s first assembly. The last major office Simone Veil held was from 1998 to 2007, where she was a member of the constitutional council.
In 2005, she spoke at the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
“Sixty years later I am still haunted by the images, the odours, the cries, the humiliation, the blows and the sky filled with the smoke of the crematoriums,” she said.
Simone Veil’s life is chronicled in her autobiography, A Life. She would have been 90 in two weeks from today.
[Featured Image by Keystone/Getty Images]