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Remembering Simone Veil

The French politician, publicist and Auschwitz survivor Simone Veil died on June 30, 2017, at the age of 89. Throughout her life, she fought against forgetting the Holocaust and for a unified Europe. “As the prerequisite for a free future, reconciled Europe needs a lasting foundation based on two pillars: passing on memory and democracy,” Veil said, speaking to the German Bundestag during an hour of remembrance on January 27, 2004.

Simone Veil (née Jacob ) was born on July 13, 1927, in Nice. In March 1944, her Jewish family was deported by the Gestapo. Veil survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, where her prisoner number was 78651. She, her mother and her sister Madeleine were forced on a death march from Auschwitz to the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp and then to Bergen-Belsen. She and Madeleine were finally liberated by the British Army. “I was a nameless, emaciated figure when the Bergen-Belsen camp was liberated, to which the despotic Nazis had banished me after Auschwitz,” Veil recalled in 2004. “We felt as though we had lost all of our humanity and all of our courage to face life.”

The liberation came too late for her mother, who had died in March 1945. Her father, brother and other family members had also been murdered. The ITS archive holds documents about the persecution of Simone Veil. These include the deportation list from Auschwitz to Mittelbau-Dora as well as the liberation list from Bergen-Belsen.

After the end of World War II, Veil studied law, served as a minister on French cabinets and was a member of the European Parliament. From 1979 to 1982, she was president of the European Parliament, the first woman to hold this office. Speaking before the German Bundestag in 2004, she addressed the younger generation:  “Do not forget the past! It is now up to you to shape Europe, a Europe of civil rights, one that stands up for peace and respect for human dignity.” 

Speech before the Bundestag on January 27, 2004