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Simone Veil (Simone Annie Liline Jacob — not to be confused with the Christian mystic philosopher of the same name), a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen who went on to become the twelfth president of the European Parliament (1979-1982) and an important feminist political figure in France, was born in Nice on this date in 1927. Veil was French minister of health from 1974-79 and worked hard to legalize abortion (January 17, 1975) and provide easier access to contraception, for which she withstood some withering criticism and anti-Semitic attacks in her Catholic country. She has also been a strong proponent of European unity in its various guises. Veil was inducted as one of the 40 “immmortals” of the Académie Française in 2008, only the sixth woman ever to be inducted, and on her ceremonial sword is engraved her Auschwitz number, the motto of the French Republic (liberté, égalité, fraternité) and the motto of the European Union (Unis dans la diversité).
“My mother, who vanished in the hell of Bergen-Belsen a few days before it was liberated, revered the French language. Even more than I am right now, she would have been dazzled that her daughter would be here today to take the seat that once belonged to Racine.” —Simone Veil