Simone Veil: From Holocaust Survivor to Women’s Rights Pioneer

Simone Veil: From Holocaust Survivor to Womens Rights Pioneer


Simone Veil was a role model in countless ways, surviving Auschwitz Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen for months, improving the conditions in the French prison system, and becoming the first woman to be the head of the European Parliament. Despite being a renowned hero, Veil had to overcome many obstacles like anti-semitism and gender inequality.

Simone Veil was born in 1927 in Nice, France, where she and her family lived near the ocean. They were Jewish but didn’t know that the Germans were coming. Regretfully, Veil, along with her siblings and parents, was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in the year 1945, where the Nazis separated her from her father and brother. Both her sister Denise and mother died in Bergen-Belsen of typhus. Veil barely survived with her other sister, Madeleine, when American soldiers liberated the camp a few months later. After suffering so much loss, Veil kept this part of her life a secret until the 1990s. 

Veil was not only a Holocaust survivor but also a feminist who fought for human rights in the prison system. After coming home from Auschwitz, she went to law school and pursued a career in politics. From 1956 to 1974, Simone Veil was part of the National Penitentiary Administration under the Ministry of Justice. She fought for prisoners’ rights in prisons where they were treated like animals and exposed to sickness and unsanitary conditions. She revolutionized the unjust system and how France treated its inmates.

Her career continued as the Minister of Health in the French government. In 1979, she pushed for abortion rights in France, but her ideas faced opposition from the ministry. They even stated that allowing that would be worse than the concentration camps. This particular comment upset her since she was a concentration camp survivor herself. She also suffered much backlash because she was a woman, being one of the only ones in the government at that time. Her law to legalize abortion was then labeled “La Loi Veil,” which means the Veil law.

Viel was then elected to be the first female head of the European Parliament. She even inspired the Simone Veil Pact, a pact throughout the European Union to protect and preserve women’s rights. She also received the Charlemagne Prize, awarded for efforts in reunifying Europe and fighting for everything that the EU stands for today.

Simone Veil had to endure a lot of hardship before she paved the way for women’s rights and reunified Europe. She remains a role model in spirit for millions of little girls around the globe, even after her death on June 30th, 2017. One can still feel the impact of her achievements all across Europe, inspiring modern decisions and creating an example for the leading females of our future.

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