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France’s Simone Veil to be inducted into famed Panthéon mausoleum

© Joel Sagat, AFP | "La Convention Nationale" statue inside the Panthéon in Paris shown on September 15, 2015.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-07-05

Holocaust survivor and women’s rights icon Simone Veil will be inducted into France’s famed Panthéon mausoleum, the final resting place of those who have made significant contributions to French society.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced the decision on Wednesday, saying that, in accordance with her family’s wishes, Veil will be laid to rest under the Panthéon’s great dome along with her husband, Antoine.

Veil’s family had earlier said that they were honoured by suggestions that she might enter the Panthéon, but did not want Veil to be separated from her spouse in her final resting place.

In an interview with Europe 1 this week, Deborah Veil said it was “extremely touching” that her grandmother might be inducted. But she added that her grandparents “would not be happy to be separated after sharing their lives together for 65 years”.

Those concerns have now been laid to rest.

Following Veil’s death on June 30, online petitions began circulating calling for her to be honoured by the Panthéon. In the five days since her death, "The Panthéon for Simone Veil" petition has garnered more than 152,700 signatures. Famous French personalities and thousands of Internet users joined forces asking for her to take her place in the famed Paris tomb reserved for France’s "Great Men" – notably Rousseau and Voltaire – and four women, including Marie Curie.

>> Read more: Petitions call for Simone Veil to enter France's Panthéon

Historian Patrick Garcia, professor at the University of Cergy-Pontoise and an associate researcher at the Institute of History, said he was not at all surprised by these calls. For him, the survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau and popular former health minister is a perfect candidate.

“There is no ‘checklist’ for entering the Panthéon, but there are informal criteria,” he told FRANCE 24. “That is to say, [inductees] embody the ideals and battles for the Republic that still have meaning today. Simone Veil embodies these values.”

“She represents the face of the deportees (Jews deported from France by the Nazis), the ideal of Europe and the leader of the struggle for the legalisation of abortion.”

Veil was deported to Auschwitz as a teenager in 1944. She survived the concentration camps, but her mother, father and brother were all killed.

Veil later became a strong advocate of women's rights and of European post-war reconciliation. She is best known for leading the fight to legalise abortion in France while serving as health minister in 1975.

European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that Veil survived the Holocaust and went on to fight for Europe, for human rights and for the rights of women.  

A fifth woman in the Panthéon

Since the Panthéon’s first-ever induction in 1791 – of Count Mirabeau, one of the leaders of the French Revolution – 80 people have been so honoured, among them politicians, writers, scientists, some religious figures and numerous soldiers. Veil will become only the fifth woman to join such illustrious ranks inside the famed necropolis, which bears the inscription: "To great men, a grateful nation."

The first such woman, Sophie Berthelot, was buried with her husband, chemist and politician Marcelin Berthelot, in 1907 "in honour of her conjugal virtue". The ashes of scientist Marie Curie were transferred to the Panthéon in 1995 along with those of her husband Pierre, with whom she shared the Nobel Prize in physics. French Resistance icons Germaine Tillion and Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz were inducted in 2015.

>> Read more: France's Panthéon honours 'Four Lives in Résistance'

Veil was a centrist figure known for her commitment to consensus building, Garcia said. “She represents an increased flexibility among political divides.”

A favourite political personality among the French for many years, her death has received nearly unanimous tributes from across the political spectrum. Macron tweeted that he hoped her example would inspire her compatriots, calling Veil "the best of France".

Her few critics hail mainly from the far right and the Catholic community, who reproach Veil for the key role she played in the legalisation of abortion in France.

>> Read more: The Panthéon: Honouring France's great men and women

"Throughout the history of the Panthéon, there have been figures who have sparked opposition," Garcia said. But at any given moment, “the values of the Republic are what matters”, he said.

“Not everyone will agree.”

Date created : 2017-07-05


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