Simran P. Gupta
Simone Veil, a lawyer, holocaust survivor, former Minister of Health, and champion of women’s rights, is to be buried in the Pantheon on July 1. She passed away on June 30 2017, at the age of 89, and is currently buried in the Montparnasse cemetery.
The Pantheon in Paris holds some of France’s most revered citizens, including Voltaire, Marie Curie, Genviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Victor Hugo, and Emile Zola are all enshrined in the Pantheon. According to RFI France, she will be the fifth woman to be entombed in the mausoleum, and will be laid to rest with her husband.
Veil is revered in French society for a number of reasons, not the least being her advocacy for abortion rights. She is credited with pushing through the law legalizing abortion in France on Jan. 17, 1975. The legislation is titled “Loi Veil” (Veil Law) and “is considered a cornerstone of women’s rights and secularism in France.”
She also spearheaded the December 1974 law facilitating access to contraception and began a legacy of focusing on medically underserved regions of France, a project that President Emmanuel Macron still continues to this day. Veil was also the sixth woman to be inducted into the Académie Française, and in acknowledgement of her achievements, the Academy engraved her Auschwitz number onto the sword presented to her during the ceremony, along with the French republic’s motto (liberté, égalité, fraternité).
Veil is not only the face of second-wave French feminism, but also a celebrated holocaust survivor. Her personal experience spurred her conviction in support of women’s rights and “European reconciliation,” according to RFI France. She was deported to Auschwitz as a teenager in 1944 and was the only member of her family to survive. According to the Jewish Women Archives, Veil credits the strength and presence of her mother as her main inspiration to continue advocating for the causes she believed in as she went through life.
Emmanuel Macron has said that he awarded her a place in the Pantheon to “show the immense gratitude of the French people to one of its most loved children.” Macron’s decision comes after thousands signed a petition advocating for her to be awarded a spot in the Pantheon, made in accordance with her family.
Her entombment in the Pantheon is truly in keeping with her legacy, as there has been a major push to redefine who deserves placement in the mausoleum. Many hope to “féminiser le Panthéon,” increasing the presence of valued women figures in France’s past and present. It is fitting, then, that a feminist hero play a major role in this effort even in her death.