Pantheon burial honors French rights icon, Holocaust survivor Simone Veil
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Pantheon burial honors French rights icon, Holocaust survivor Simone Veil

Rare honor comes a year after the death of Veil, who is remembered for her successful 1974 abortion rights campaign and her long advocacy for European integration

French Republican Guards arrive to carry the coffins of former French politician and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil and her husband Antoine Veil to the Pantheon in Paris on July 1, 2018 during the burial ceremony. (AFP Photo/Pool/Ludovic Marin)
French Republican Guards arrive to carry the coffins of former French politician and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil and her husband Antoine Veil to the Pantheon in Paris on July 1, 2018 during the burial ceremony. (AFP Photo/Pool/Ludovic Marin)

PARIS, France (AFP) — 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 honor of burial at the Pantheon a year and a day after she died.

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 Pantheon in the heart of Paris houses the remains of many great French figures, including Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Emile Zola.

But she 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.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron, center, his wife Brigitte Macron, center left, the sons of late French politician and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil and her husband Antoine Veil, Pierre-Francois Veil, fifth from left, and Jean Veil, fourth from left, and their relatives stand by the coffins in the Pantheon’s nave in Paris during the burial ceremony on July 1, 2018. (AFP Photo/Pool/Ludovic Marin)

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 being carried by pallbearers on a blue carpet leading to the Pantheon.

French lawyer and politician Simone Veil, the Minister of Health, outside the Elysee Palace in Paris, 13th November 1974. That morning, the ministers had held a meeting on the subject of abortion. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images/JTA)

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 Pantheon as a Holocaust victim but as someone who overcame this horror and that’s why she’s in people’s hearts,” he told AFP.

The fifth woman

Simone Veil, nee Jacob, was 16 when she was deported along with family members in 1944 to Auschwitz. Her mother, father and brother were killed in the Holocaust while a sister, Denise, was arrested as part of the anti-Nazi resistance.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with the son of late French politician and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil, Pierre-Francois Veil, and his wife Barbara Rosnay during the burial ceremony for former French politician and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil and her husband Antoine Veil at the Pantheon in Paris on July 1, 2018. (AFP Photo/Pool/Ludovic Marin)

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 legalize 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 Pantheon 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 Pantheon 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 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 Pantheon where the coffins will lie in state until Monday, with admission free until July 8.

This file photo taken on June 10, 1979 shows Simone Veil casting her ballot in Paris during the European elections. (Pierre Guillaud/AFP)
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