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Auschwitz survivor becomes Académie Française ‘immortal’
She survived the Nazi camps at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen to become a champion of access to contraception and legalised abortion. Today, Simone Veil became only the sixth woman to join the 40 "immortals" of the prestigious Académie Française.
Veteran feminist politician and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil Thursday became an "immortal", as members of France’s most prestigious intellectual club, the Académie Française, are known
Born Simone Jacob, Veil was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 with her family. Both of her parents and her brother died during their internment.
After the war Veil made her name as a supporter of women’s issues and became the first woman president of the European Parliament.
A lawyer who worked as a civil servant in the Ministry of Justice, Veil became health minister from 1974 to 1979 in the governments of Prime Ministers Jacques Chirac and Raymond Barre.
During this time she made access to contraception easier for women and legalised abortion against huge opposition in the male-dominated National Assembly.
The law legalising abortion, which bears her name, came into force in January 1975. Her battle against the odds gave her an almost mythical status as France’s leading feminist, and according to an IFOP poll she remains one of the most popular figures in France.
Veil was elected as MEP in 1979, becoming its first elected president and the first woman president since the parliament was created in 1952.
Veil, now 82 years old, supported President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential bid, although since then the two have not seen eye-to-eye on a number of ideas proposed by the president, including the DNA profiling of immigrants and a proposal for French schoolchildren to “adopt” child Holocaust victims.
In March Veil publicly criticised Sarkozy for not including a single woman in France’s Constitutional Council, criticism to which he reportedly took umbrage.
Sarkozy initially announced he would not attend Veil’s investiture to the Académie Française because of his “busy schedule”, but the Elysée Palace said Wednesday he would attend after all.