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Panthéon burial honours French rights icon Simone Veil

Thousands of people gathered in Paris on Sunday to pay their final respects to Holocaust survivor and women's rights icon Simone Veil as she was given the rare honour of burial at the Panthéon a year and a day after she died.

Panthéon burial honours French rights icon Simone Veil
French Republican Guards arrive to carry the coffins of Simone Veil and her husband Antoine Veil to the Panthéon on Sunday. Photo: LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL / AFP
Veil's death at the age of 89 prompted an outpouring of emotion as she had long been considered one of France's most popular and trusted public figures.
 
The Panthéon in the heart of Paris houses the remains of many great French figures, including Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Emile Zola.  But Veil is only the fifth woman to be buried there, being laid to rest alongside her husband Antoine, a high-ranking civil servant who died in 2013.
 
Their two coffins were escorted by Republican Guards through Paris from the Holocaust Memorial where they had stood for 48 hours to allow the public to pay their last respects. The coffins were then placed on funeral biers before carried by pall-bearers on a blue carpet leading to the Pantheon. 
 
Among the crowds were many women wearing T-shirts with the slogan: “Thank you Simone.”
 
“She broke every glass ceiling, in terms of women in society, but also that of (France's role in) the extermination of the Jews: it was taboo,” said Bernard Greensfeld, one of those standing outside the Holocaust memorial. 
 
“She's not going into the Panthéon as a Holocaust victim but as someone who overcame this horror and that's why she's in people's hearts,” he told AFP. 
 
A 2007 photo of Simone Veil. Photo: Franck Fife / AFP

A 2007 photo of Simone Veil. Photo: Franck Fife / AFP
 
The fifth woman
   
Simone Veil was 16 when she was deported along with family members in 1944 to Auschwitz. Her mother, father and brother were killed in the Holocaust. After her return, she became a resolute advocate of women's rights as well as European reconciliation, securing her biggest political victory in 1974 by convincing the French parliament to legalise abortion despite fierce opposition.
 
She also became the first elected president of the European Parliament in 1979, a post she held for three years.
 
The move to have Veil's remains transferred to the Panthéon began immediately after her death on June 30, 2017, with two petitions quickly gaining hundreds of thousands of signatures. 
 
Until now, only four women have been interred there: scientist Marie Curie, Sophie Berthelot, who was buried alongside her chemist husband Marcellin Berthelot and two resistance fighters Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz and Germaine Tillion.
 
 A national decision
 
As the sun beat down, a large crowd gathered for the ceremony which was attended by members of her family, and a host of politicians and dignitaries, among them the former presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy.
 
At the ceremony, President Emmanuel Macron said the decision to bury her in the Panthéon was a decision taken by the entire nation. 
 
“It is… what all French people wanted,” he said. “With Simone Veil, all the women that have made France are here.”
 
The transfer of Veil's remains had began on Friday, when the couple's coffins were exhumed from the Montparnasse cemetery and brought to the crypt of the French Holocaust Memorial in central Paris, which she helped found.
 
After Macron's address, the two coffins were transferred into the Panthéon where the coffins will lie in state until Monday, with admission free until July 8.
 
By AFP's Jérôme Rivet
 

HISTORY

‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.

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