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February 3: Simone Weil

February 3, 2013

Simone Weil, a French philosopher and social activist who fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War and then turned to Christian mysticism (although she never converted from Judaism), was born in Paris into a secular Jewish family on this date in 1909. She lived only thirty-four years, but her writings became widely known in the 1950s and ’60s. In her teens, she was a Marxist and a pacifist; in her twenties, she became critical of communism, and conducted a debate-in-print with Leon Trotsky, who had stayed in her parents’ home in 1933. After Hitler’s rise to power in Germany that year, she became deeply involved in helping German leftists flee the Nazi regime. Also in that year, she participated in the French general strike, and took a 12-month leave of absence from her teaching position to work as a laborer in two factories. Weil narrowly escaped being killed in the Spanish Civil War, and then had a series of religious awakenings that convinced her of the reality of mystical experience. The ascetic lifestyle she adopted may have helped bring about her early death by cardiac arrest, at which time she was working for the French Resistance in London. Pope Paul VI called Simone Weil one of his three greatest influences; Albert Camus called her "the only great spirit of our times."

"It is an eternal obligation toward the human being not to let him suffer from hunger when one has a chance of coming to his assistance." —Simone Weil