Holocaust survivor Simone Veil, who repeatedly broke barriers for women in French politics and spearheaded the fight to legalize abortion, was buried at the Pantheon on Sunday, an honor reserved for French heroes.
Veil’s remains were interred at the Paris monument one year after her death at age 89, along with those of her husband, Antoine, who died in 2013. Relatives and friends joined dozens of dignitaries, including French President Emmanuel Macron and former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande, for the ceremony.
Republican Guard pallbearers carried the couple’s caskets up a blue carpet, a color that symbolized peace, the United Nations and the European Union. Veil was a firm believer in a united Europe.
A crowd that numbered in the thousands applauded and paused to take in the milestones of her life while recordings of her voice and music that included Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” — the European Union’s anthem— and the “Song of the Deported” were played.
“France loves Simone Veil,” Macron said in a speech. “She lived through the worst of the 20th century and yet fought to make it better.”
Confident that “humanity wins over barbarity,” Veil went on to fight for women’s rights, peace and Europe, he noted.
American soprano Barbara Hendricks and the Choir of the French Army performed the Marseillaise national anthem before a minute of silence was observed.
The couple’s caskets were carried inside the Pantheon, where they will be buried in the crypt.
Veil is the fourth woman to be honored with a Pantheon burial. 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. The monument also holds the remains of 72 men.
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 in 1979.