PARIS – Holocaust survivor Simone Veil, one of France’s most revered politicians, is getting the rare honor of being buried at the Pantheon, where French heroes are interred, one year after her death.
Veil was being inhumed Sunday at the Paris monument with her husband Antoine, who died in 2013, in a symbolic ceremony with her family and dozens of dignitaries, including French President Emmanuel Macron and former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande.
Veil repeatedly broke barriers for women in French politics. She was a firm believer in European unification and well known in France for spearheading the legalization of abortion.
Republican Guard pallbearers carried the caskets Sunday to the Pantheon over a blue carpet symbolizing the color of peace, the United Nations and of Europe, as a crowd of thousands applauded.
They paused several times to mark the big steps of Veil’s life with the soundtrack of her voice and music, including Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” — the European Union’s anthem— and the “Song of the Deported.”
“France loves Simone Veil,” Macron said in a speech. “She lived through the worst of the 20th century and yet fought for make it better.”
Confident that “humanity wins over barbarity,” Veil became a fighter for women’s rights, peace and Europe, he noted.
The Marseillaise national anthem was then sung by the American soprano Barbara Hendricks and the Choir of the French Army, followed by a minute of silence.
The caskets were carried inside the Pantheon, where they will be buried into the crypt.
Veil is the fourth woman to be honored at the Pantheon, which also holds 72 men. The other women are two who fought with the French Resistance during World War II — Germaine Tillion and Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz — and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Marie Curie.
Veil was 16 when she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz in March 1944. She lost her parents and her brother in Nazi camps and spoke frequently about the need to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.
In 1974, as France’s health minister, she led the battle to get parliament to legalize abortion. The law is still known as the “Loi Veil.”
Veil also became the first elected president of the European parliament from 1979 to 1982. She died at age 89.