French figures: The Auschwitz survivor who championed France’s abortion law

One of the most admired people in France, she is one of the few women buried in the Panthéon and gave her name to a landmark social change.

French figures: The Auschwitz survivor who championed France's abortion law
Photo: AFP

La Loi Veil – the Veil Law – got its name from its mother, Simone. In the mid-1970s she managed to convince the French National Assembly to legalise abortion, despite fierce resistance from fellow politicians, the Catholic church and some segments of the population.

Simone Veil (pronounced 'vey') was many things: Holocaust survivor, trained lawyer, renowned politician, senior civil servant, women's right champion and feminist idol.

She was born in a Jewish family in Nice, 1927. Her adolescent years were brutally interrupted when, not yet turned 17, she was arrested and incarcerated in Auschwitz, the largest German concentration camp, situated in Poland.

Veil and her family were later transferred to Bergen-Belsen, another camp, where her mother died shortly before British forces liberated the camp in 1945.

Simone Veil, here with her husband Antoine, is one of the few women buried in the Panthéon, the famous building that where historical figures such as Voltaire, Rousseau and Zola were laid to rest. Photo: AFP

Veil's status as a Holocaust survivor fundamentally impacted her staunch, humanist approach to politics. She was a skilled politician and many polls have showed her to be one of the most admired people in France.

In 1979 she was elected the first directly elected and first female president of the institution we today know as the European Parliament.

In 2008, she was elected to be part of the French language guardian, Académie Française, a rare feat for politicians. 

This article is part of The Local France's 2020 virtual advent calendar – every day until Christmas we will be presenting you with a person or object that has a particular significance to life in France. 


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


French figures: The true spirit of France

This is the incredible story about the teenage girl who became a symbol of France for the ages.

French figures: The true spirit of France
Illustration photo: AFP

The story of Joan of Arc – Jeanne d'Arc in French – begun like many fairytales do: an unlikely hero is chosen to accomplish a dangerous task.

Born around 1412, Joan of Arc was an illiterate peasant girl convinced that divine powers had decided she would fight the English army in France. 

She then did exactly that. 

This was during the so-called Hundred Years’ War, when English troops battled for territory across the country that is now France.

Joan of Arc liberated Orléans city from English forces in a legendary and decisive battle that paved the way for the later French victory in 1453.

Joan of Arc paid for her heroism with her life. She was captured and sold her to the English army, who burned her at the stake in Rouen, northeast France, around 1431. She was approximately 19 years old at the time.

But her short life left a lasting mark on France and in 1920 she was made a Saint. Almost 600 years after her death she is still commemorated and celebrated in France and her spirit is invoked during difficult times for the country.

Known today as “the Maid of Orléans”, Joan of Arc's silhouette is all over the city, ingrained on medallions on the street, cast into sculptures and painted on the boxes of Cotignac, an Orléans culinary speciality.

READ ALSO: Ten reasons why you should visit the French city Orléans

This article is the final instalment of The Local France's 2020 virtual advent calendar – featuring every day a person or thing that has a special place in French culture. To see the whole calendar, click here.