How an Auschwitz survivor and conservative politician became an abortion rights champion


Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

“Her name is associated with women’s equality, the memory of the Shoah and the European community,” was a statement said about Simone Veil, a well-known French politician, Holocaust survivor, scholar, former judge, and feminist activist after she passed away in 2017 at the age of 89.

Now, with the United States Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade, Washington University is hosting a special event examining Veil’s life, and how she as an Auschwitz survivor and conservative politician won the battle for abortion rights in France.

The event

Organized by the French Connexions Center of Excellence, in collaboration with the Department of Jewish, Islamic, and Middle Eastern Studies, the event will be moderated by Associate Professor Flora Cassen, chair of Jewish, Islamic, and Middle Eastern Studies at Wash U.

Also featured is Lionel Cuillé, director of French Connexions and special guest Susan Talve, the founding rabbi of Central Reform Congregation.,

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

All interested in attending are asked to RSVP online.

Who was Simone Veil?

Veil, a lawyer by education, 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.

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

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

Veil, who was born in Nice, was imprisoned at Auschwitz but managed to escape the Nazi death camp. She published a best-selling autobiography in 2007 titled “A Life.” The following year, she was admitted to the Academie Francaise — a highly 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 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 is “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,” CRIF President Francis Kalifat wrote, adding 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.