PARIS — Simone Veil, a French survivor of Nazi death camps and European Parliament president who spearheaded abortion rights as one of France’s most prominent woman politicians, has died. She was 89.
The office of her son Jean Veil said Friday that Simone Veil died, without providing further information. No information was immediately available about memorial ceremonies.
Tributes poured in Friday from politicians across the spectrum for a centrist politician and avowed feminist respected even by rivals.
Veil said her it was her experiences in the Nazi concentration camps that made her a firm believer in the unification of Europe.
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“The idea of war was for me something terrible,” she told The Associated Press in a 2007 interview. “The only possible option was to make peace.”
Her own rise from former deportee to the head of the European Parliament was a potent symbol of that sought-after peace, she said.
A two-time Cabinet minister, Veil was best known in France for spearheading the heated battle to legalize abortion in the 1970s. France’s abortion rights law is still known four decades later as the “Loi Veil,” and she called it her proudest accomplishment.
She saw herself as an advocate for the downtrodden, and devoted much of her early career to improving conditions in French prisons. Later, she became one of the most visible faces of France’s dwindling community of Holocaust survivors and spoke passionately about the need to keep the memory alive.
Born Simone Jacob in the Mediterranean port city of Nice on July 13, 1927, she was one of four children. Her father worked as an architect until a 1941 law by France’s collaborationist Vichy government forced him — and other Jews — out of the profession.
In March 1944, the Gestapo arrested and deported Veil, her parents and all but one of her siblings. Veil, who was 16 at the time, her sister and mother ended up at the death camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her mother died in the camp, while Veil and her sister survived.
Her father and brother were sent to a camp in a Baltic country. They were never seen again.
Upon her return, Veil pursued a law degree at Paris’ prestigious Institut d’Etudes Politiques. Veil became a judge and worked for seven years in France’s department of corrections, where she fought to improve prison conditions.
“Having had my freedom taken away gave me a real…