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  • French Republican Guards carry the flag-draped coffin of Simone Veil during a national tribute before being laid to rest in the crypt of the Pantheon

    French Republican Guards carry the flag-draped coffin of Simone Veil during a national tribute before being laid to rest in the crypt of the Pantheon | Photo: Reuters

Published 1 July 2018
Opinion

Veil is only the fifth woman to be buried at the Pantheon.

Thousands of people gathered in Paris Sunday to pay their final respects to Holocaust survivor and women's rights icon Simone Veil as she was given the rare honor of burial at the Panthéon —reserved for France's female historical figures— a year and a day after she died.

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Her coffin was escorted along with her husband's by Republican Guards through Paris from the Holocaust Memorial where they had stood for 48 hours to allow the public to pay their last respects. The coffins were then placed on funeral biers before carried by pall-bearers on a blue carpet leading to the Pantheon. 

Veil's death at the age of 89 prompted an outpouring of emotion as she had long been considered one of France's most popular and trusted public figures. The move to have Veil's remains transferred to the Panthéon began immediately after her death on June 30, 2017, with two petitions quickly gaining hundreds of thousands of signatures. 

A large crowd gathered for the ceremony which was attended by members of her family, and a host of politicians and dignitaries, among them former presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy.

At the ceremony, President Emmanuel Macron said the decision to bury her in the Panthéon was a decision taken by the entire nation.  "It is... what all French people wanted," he said. "With Simone Veil, all the women that have made France are here."

The Panthéon in the heart of Paris houses the remains of many great French figures, including Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Emile Zola.  But Veil is only the fifth woman to be buried there.

Until now, only four women have been interred there: scientist Marie Curie, Sophie Berthelot, who was buried alongside her chemist husband Marcellin Berthelot and two resistance fighters Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz and Germaine Tillion.

Among the crowds were many women wearing T-shirts with the slogan: "Thank you Simone."

Simone Veil was 16 when she was deported along with family members in 1944 to Auschwitz. Her mother, father and brother were killed in the Holocaust. After her return, she became a resolute advocate of women's rights as well as European reconciliation, securing her biggest political victory in 1974 by convincing the French parliament to legalize abortion despite fierce opposition among lawmakers —at a time when 98 percent were male.

She also became the first elected president of the European Parliament in 1979, a post she held for three years, and the fifth woman to preside the French Academy when she was 81 years old.

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