Simone Veil, 'the best of France,' dies

Holocaust Survivor and French Feminist Politician Simone Veil Dies at 89

French politician Simone Veil, dressed in the French Academician's uniform of a black jacket embroidered in green laurel leaves, displays her ceremonial epee in the library of the Institut de France before a ceremony in Paris March 18, 2010.

Born Simon Jacob in Nice in 1927, Veil was 17 years old when she was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp.

She and her sister survived but they did not know what had happened to their father and brother until 1978 when a book revealed they had been transported to Lithuania and then Estonia.

Expressing his condolences, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted: "May her example inspire our fellow citizens, as the best of what France can achieve".

As a young judge she lobbied for improved conditions in French prisons before throwing herself into the battle to end backstreet abortions. After surviving some of the worst horrors of the Second World War while only a teenager, she overcame her early experiences to become one of the most prominent French figures of the 20th century. Although they had been legal since the late 1960s, they were still hard to obtain, and Simone Veil made sure that all women who needed them were given access. She met husband Antoine Veil while studying law.

In 1975, she championed the issue of abortion in France, helping make it legal.

Tributes honouring her courage and determination to advance women's rights were paid from within France and beyond. She was the first president of an elected European Parliament and the first woman to preside it since its creation in 1952, a role she held until 1982. Following her time in the parliament, she served on France's Constitutional Council, ultimately remaining in public office until 2007, the Guardian reports.

"Sixty years later I am still haunted by the images, the odours, the cries, the humiliation, the blows and the sky filled with the smoke of the crematoriums", she said. She would have been 90 in two weeks from today.

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