Sophia is a junior at Florida International University majoring in Secondary English education. Some of her hobbies include reading classic novels such as Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice. She lives in Cutler Bay with her husband and two dogs. Her topics of interest include women’s rights, equitable education, and human rights. She enjoys spending time on her boat out in the Florida Bay, exploring new restaurants in Miami, and watching the occasional netflix show.
Simone Annie Liline Veil
Simone Annie Liline Veil was born in Nice on July 13, 1927. She was born Simone Annie Liline Jacob and she was the youngest of four children. Her father Andre Jacob was a non practicing Jewish architect. Her mother Yvonne Jacob studied chemistry. Once they were married Andre insisted she stay home with the children. When the Nazi regime came to power in 1940 Andre avidly opposed them and placed his family on a list known as the infamous “Jewish file.” The Jewish file was a list of Jews in France that opposed the Nazis. At the time putting their names on the list seemed like a good idea as way to protest the Nazis. However, their names on the list later caused much despair. The Italians occupied the South of France. Somehow, during the first roundup of Jews the Jacobs were undetected. They did not remain so lucky, in September of 1943 at 16 years old Simone and the rest of her family were arrested by two SS agents, with the exception of her sister Denise, who was up in Lyon with the resistance. The women of the family were transported to Auschwitz. Her father and brother boarded a train to the Baltic States and were never heard from again. Researchers have tried to determine what happened to Simones brother and father, but have come up with no answers.
When she arrived at Auschwitz she was stripped from head to toe. Her head was shaved and she was permanently marked with the numbers 78651 on her forearm. From her first hand account via her memoir she said “From then on, each of us was just a number, seared into our flesh, A number we had to learn by heart, since we had lost all identity.” Normally at that time women of her age were sent straight to the gas chambers. Simone lied to the Nazis about her age and was able to escape death by gas. At the age of 17 Simone was liberated from the concentration camp and went back to France. Upon her return she enrolled at the University of Paris and the Institut d’études politiques where she studied Law. At university she met her husband Antoine Veil, they had three sons together Jean, Nicolas, and Pierre-François.
In many interviews and in her own memoir Simone attributes her late mother to her success. During their time at Auschwitz, Simone, her sister Milou, and her mother Yvonne went through many trials and tribulations. They slept in close quarters and were forced to work hard labor jobs for over a year before the camp was liberated. Yvonne studied science and wanted to have a career in the field, Simone drew inspiration from that. When asked later on in life how she kept fighting at Auschwitz and during her trials for the change of abortion law Simone said “I’m often asked what gave me the strength and will to continue the fight. I deeply believe that it was my mother, she has never stopped being present to me, next to me.” (Author’s translation from Veil’s remarks made at the 2005 Creteil event). Yvonne never made it out of Auschwitz, she died of typhus. Years later Simone went back to Auschwitz and addressed the world. A reporter asked “what do you have to say about this place and the holocaust?” to which she replied “never forget, there’s nothing else to do just do not forget.” While Simone was an advocate for remembering the holocaust she was not a fan of exposing children to the horrors early on in childhood. In 2007 during the presidential election in France Simone took fault with Nicolas Sarkozy’s platform of having 10 year old children honor Jewish child victims of the holocaust saying that it was “unimaginable, unbearable, dramatic and, above all, unfair,” Losing her mother and going through all of the things she experienced at Auschwitz influenced her and helped her on her voyage for women’s rights. Simone’s sister Milou made it out of the concentration camp with Simone and tragically died in a car accident in 1952. Simone’s other sister Denise went on to have a long life and died in 2013.
Career and Contributions
After Law school Simone spent time working as a lawyer before taking the examination to become a Magistrate in 1956. After she passed her exam she took on a senior position at the National Penitentiary Administration. Benjamin Dodman writes “She notably strove to improve women’s conditions in French jails and, during the Algerian War of Independence, obtained the transfer to France of Algerian female prisoners amid reports of widespread abuse and rape.” (Dodman, 1) This is an important part of her early career because it set her up to accomplish amazing things for women’s rights. After her work on women’s rights in jail came to a conclusion she worked on women’s partial rights with regards to parental control and adoption. Her most notable career contribution was the implementation of what is now known as the Veil law. The Veil law was a bill Simone Veil presented in front of the National Assembly in 1974 that allowed women to receive abortions legally and also provide them access to contraceptive. Simone said “No woman happily resorts to abortion. Just listen to women. It has always been a tragedy and it will remain a tragedy. Therefore, though this Bill takes into account the existing facts of situation, though it accepts the possibility of an abortion, the ultimate objective is to control it and, where possible, to dissuade women.” (Simone Veil at the National Assembly) When Simone presented this on the floor of the national assembly, which consisted of majority males, she received major backlash. Reporters used her past as a holocaust survivor as ammunition against her. The Jewish encyclopedia writes “The most abhorrent remarks even compared the legalization of abortion to the Holocaust. The anonymous attacks included swastikas painted on her car and the elevator in her building and letters condemning her children to hell.” (Hottell, 3) Through all of the hate Simone Veil was able to make a difference in the lives of every woman in France. Her impact changed the world.
Life After the Veil Law
After her work on the Veil law, Simone never stopped working on women’s rights. In 1975 she joined the Ministry of Health as a health minister. While in office she addressed many issues, such as women’s access to contraceptives. She also fought to end different forms of discrimination against women. “Besides the highly visible Veil Law, she strove in other ways to help women care for their families; for example, she was able to expand health coverage, monthly stipends for childcare, maternity benefits, etc.” (Hottle, 4) She went on to leave civic government and become parliament’s first female president, a job she held for three consecutive terms. Her time spent as president was highly beneficial to the country. After her time as president she went back to the ministry of health and was appointed to France’s Constitutional Council, which is the highest level of constitutional authority. Dodman writes that in 2008, “she was elected to the Académie française, becoming only the sixth woman to join the prestigious “Immortals”, who preside over the French language.” (Dodman,3) Simone Lilian Veil died June 30th 2017 at 89 years old. President Emmanuel Macron said “Her uncompromising humanism, wrought by the horror of the camps, made her the constant ally of the weakest, and the resolute enemy of any political compromise with the extreme right,” about Simone Veil after her passing.
My connection and reflection
While Simone Veil lived a very different life then my own, her legacy has impacted my life. The Veil law, allowing women access to abortions changed the world forever. As a woman having the option of terminating a pregnancy is life changing. I believe women should be allowed options on how they want their lives to play out. We should be allowed to have safe sex, and have maternal rights. Much of Simone’s legacy was questioned by critics, they could not understand how she could advocate for women killing their babies. While she herself stated she would never have an abortion she wanted women to have a choice. She hoped through education and contraception that there would be less abortions. At the time women were seeking out illegal abortions which would result in infection, loss of ovaries, or worse even death. Her compassion and view on the issue saved many lives and paved a new way for women in France. In a world today where our own Florida governor is trying to increase restrictions on abortions it is so important to me to speak out on this issue.
I grew up in a household with a big Jewish influence, some of my close extended family is Jewish. Reading about Simone’s time in Auschwitz was heartbreaking and all too close to home. The holocaust is a topic many people want to gloss over. One of my favorite novels on the holocaust “Night” by Elie Wiesel is actually on the banned book list. The “banned book list” is determined by each school district. Educators of the school district come together and decide which books are appropriate to teach. A plethora of books regarding the holocaust have been banned in various school districts. Some examples of banned books are “Sophie’s Choice” “The Diary of a Young girl” “Maus” and “Number of the Stars”. Why have all of these books been banned at some point or another? It is because the events of the holocaust were so horrific, graphic, and sickening that many believe it is too gruesome to talk about. Yet the paradox of not talking about the genocide, gas chambers, human experiments, horrific living conditions in the camps, the abuse, starvation, and the many more horrors is that we end up forgetting the events all together. Spanish Philosopher George Santayana once said “Those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If we fail to talk about the holocaust and the events that transpired we will at some point in the future let it happen again.
After Simone died people remembered her as a friend, ally, human rights activist, and above all a martyr for women’s rights. Her kindness, tenacity, grit, and love of people change the world forever. I can only hope to live up to the legacy she left behind.
Dodman, Benjamin. “Simone Veil, French Holocaust Survivor Who Championed Women’s Rights.” FRANCE 24, 20 Sept. 2016, https://webdoc.france24.com/obituary-simone-veil-holocaust-women-abortion-france/.
“Simone Veil, First President of the European Parliament.” Womentoring, 23 Sept. 2020, https://www.womentoring.eu/simone-veil/.
Simone Veil, 24 Apr. 2022, https://timenote.info/en/Simone-Veil.
Ruth Hottell Last updated June 23 2021. “Simone Veil.” Jewish Women’s Archive, https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/veil-simone#pid-15190.
de La Hougue, claire. “The Deconstruction of the Veil Law on Abortion.” European Centre for Law and Justice, 30 June 2017, https://eclj.org/la-dconstruction-de-la-loi-veil/french-institutions/la-dconstruction-de-la-loi-veil#:~:text=In%20the%20Voluntary%20Interruption%20of,impacts%20of%20abortion%20and%20contraception.
Chan, Sewell. “Simone Veil, Ex-Minister Who Wrote France’s Abortion Law, Dies at 89.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 June 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/30/world/europe/simone-veil-dead.html.
Chronologie: Madeleine Jacob Biographie, https://www-kronobase-org.translate.goog/chronologie-categorie-Madeleine+Jacob.html?_x_tr_sl=fr&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_pto=sc.