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French survivor, recipient of Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, Simone Veil, dies at 89

Simone Veil

NEW YORK CITY (JTA) – Simone Veil, a well-known French politician and Holocaust survivor, has died.

Veil, a former minister of health who in 2012 was awarded France’s highest honor, died recently at her home in Paris, her family told the media in France. The scholar, former judge and feminist activist was 89.

A lawyer by education, Veil served as minister of health under the center-right government of Valery Giscard d’Estaing and later as president of the European Parliament, as well as a member of the Constitutional Council of France. In 1975, she led the legislation that legalized abortions in France.

President Emmanuel Macron offered his condolences.

“May her example inspire our fellow countrymen, who will find in her the best of France,” Macron said in a message to the family.

Former French President Francois Hollande presented Veil with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor at the Elysee Palace in 2012. Fewer than 70 people have received the Grand Cross since Napoleon Bonaparte established it in 1802.

Veil, a native of Nice, was imprisoned at Auschwitz and later Bergen-Belsen before she was liberated in April 1945. She published the best-selling autobiography A Life in 2007. The following year she was admitted to the Academie Francaise, a prestigious institution comprising individuals, often philosophers and writers, recognized for scholarly excellence.

The institution, which has 35 members, of whom only six are women, was “revolutionized” by the admittance of Veil, a longtime campaigner for women’s rights, according to an obituary written about Veil by the RTL broadcaster.

The president of CRIF, the umbrella organization representing French Jewish communities, wrote in a statement that he was “immensely saddened by the passing of Veil. “With her high standards and loyalty, this activist for women’s rights has left an indelible mark on French politics and its intellectual life,” Francis Kalifat wrote, adding that Veil had done so “with courage and dignity.”

In 2012, CRIF described Veil as “one of France’s most cherished personalities and someone who plays an important role in keeping her camp from succumbing to the temptation of allying with the Front National” nationalist party.

“Her name is associated with women’s equality, the memory of the Shoah and the European community,” CRIF added.

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