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Tribute to Simone Veil

the words of Cyrille Rougeau

Mr Rougeau with Mayor Giuseppe Sala in front of the plaque dedicated to Simon Veil

Mr Rougeau with Mayor Giuseppe Sala in front of the plaque dedicated to Simon Veil

Following we publish the words of the Consul General of France, H.E. Cyrille Rogeau, on the occasion of the dedication of a plaque to Simone Veil inside the Garden of the Righteous of Milan

Mr Mayor,

Mr Chairman of Gariwo, dear Gabriele,

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends

Prior to any remarks, I would like to thank you for inviting me to bear witness to Simone Veil’s work, and tell you up to which point it is a great honour but also a true emotion to speak about this exceptional Frenchwoman, who entered the Pantheon of the most illustrious Frenchmen on 1 July 2018.

Born into a Jewish family, she was arrested in Nice on 30 March 1944, when she was 16 years old, and, with her mother and her sister Madeleine, she was sent to the camp of Auschwitz after transiting from the French camp of Drancy. If she had not heeded the advice of a French prisoner to declare she was over 18, she would have been immediately exterminated.

With her two sisters Madeleine and Denise, she was the only survivor to the camps, as her father, mother and brother would never come back. Of when I took my then patron, the President of the Senate, to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, on 26 January 2005, I still have before my eyes the incredible dignity of Mrs Veil who found again those places after over 60 years, as intact as her memories, which dwelled in her and yet did not alter her perfect dignity, the one of a great who has been put to the test but has been able to overcome it by the force of her bravery and strong will. Such dignity of Simone Veil in founding again the places of a stolen but resistant youth is also that of all the people who have put their heart and soul into opposing the Nazi savagery. 

This savagery of the Holocaust, which has murdered over six million Jews, but has not succeeded in stealing their identity and even less to erase their memory, is for us Europeans an eternal reason of shame and regret. It reminds us also that people sometimes have a short memory and we must constantly remain vigil. As she returned to Paris at about age 18, Simone Veil enrolled in Law at Sciences-Po and she soon met her future husband, Antoine Veil, whom she would marry in 1946 and from whom she would have three children. So very soon she had the strength to rebuild a family, which would be her pride for her whole life. Entering the Bench in 1956, she rapidly made her own place in it, becoming Secretary General of the Higher Council of the Bench in 1970.

Then she made her way through politics, with the entrance into the government in 1974 as Healthcare Minister of President Giscard d’Estaing. She would remain such until 1979, to then re-enter that post between 1993 and 1995, at the time of the cohabitation between President Mitterrand and Prime Minister Balladur. It is in that position that she mostly marked the life of the French, by defending and achieving, with exemplary bravery and resolve, the legalization of abortion in 1975. She kept strong in the adversities, despite the fierce oppositions of her own side. And she thus became the symbol of the fight for the non-discrimination of women. The Simone Veil Prize was created this year upon the initiative of the President of the Republic to award the female courage and commitment. On past 8 March, Emmanuel Macron bestowed the first Simone Veil Prize on Cameroun’s Aissa Doumara Ngatansou, who runs an association of aid to the victims of rape and forced marriages in her country.

Member of the European Parliament since 1979, at the time of the first European elections, she was also the first President of the European Parliament, which shows eloquently enough the extent of her European commitment and her leadership and moral authority. European deputy until 1993, she would relentlessly work for the European construction and the French-German friendship, another of her commitments. A tireless worker, she was a member of the Constitutional Council from 1998 to 2007, before being one of the rare women elected to the French Academy in 2008. On her sword as an Immortal, there is the matriculation number that was marked on her arm at her entrance in Auschwitz, along with the French motto (liberté, égalité, fraternité) and the one of the European Union (In varietate concordia). These three inscriptions well sum up the fate of a great lady: an exceptional woman, an engaged Frenchwoman and a convinced European.

Passing away at her home on 30 June 2017, some days before her 90th birthday and four years after her dear spouse Antoine – who accompanies her in the Pantheon -, her last words appear to have been: Thank you.

Well, Mrs Veil, it is our turn to say Thank you. We say it even louder as some savages have recently sullied your beautiful face, painted on the Paris walls to remember you, with an infamous swastika. Thank you for being for so many French and European people, and even more broadly for so many women and men of good will, an example and a model. It is no hazard if, in the hearts of the French people, you have been for so long in the first place, along with the Abbé Pierre, another exceptional figure. In our troubled and uncertain times, may your example inspire all Europeans in general and all those who govern us in particular. Thank you.

H.E. Cyrille Rougeau, France's Consul General

Analysis by H.E. Cyrille Rougeau, France's Consul General

20 March 2019

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