Simone Veil James Leynse/Getty Images

Homage to Simone Veil

Nothing made the great French and European politician Simone Veil angrier than the refrain about the Holocaust being unspeakable, which was supposed to explain why its survivors, upon returning home, retreated into silence. The truth, as she could attest, was that no one wanted to hear about it.

PARIS – I have an abiding image of Simone Veil, the French (and later European) politician who died last week. It is a black-and-white photo taken in September 1979, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – a period known as the Days of Awe – in Paris, before the memorial to the unknown Jewish martyr. A young man, bareheaded behind a lectern, is speaking in honor of those who died in the Holocaust. Simone Veil is standing in the front row, a handsome woman lost in her thoughts yet still attentive. She is skeptical, stern, incredulous, wary. Afterwards, she will say to the young man, in a tone of gentle reproach, “too lyrical.”

Several years earlier, in 1974, she stood before the French parliament to deliver a speech that would change the lives of French women and mark the term of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, just as the abolition of the death penalty marked the term of Giscard’s successor, François Mitterrand. Then, defending the legalization of abortion, she resembled Romy Schneider in Orson Welles’s The Trial, determined but ill at ease. There is thunder in her words, coexisting with a bottomless melancholy. She may not have wept after the speech, but I do not doubt that she lived through that moment in what the Christian theologian Duns Scotus called “the ultimate solitude.”

She went on, paradoxically, to be honored, celebrated, adored all over Europe, while living as a sort of stowaway in an era that she would never fully embrace – an enigma to her contemporaries, always slightly withdrawn, yet as transparent in her own eyes as it is humanly possible to be. She knew her vocation, the direction of her destiny, and the force of her desire (from which she never wavered) to break with what she described, during a demonstration in Paris in support of the victims of the 1980 synagogue bombing on Rue Copernic, “Jewish disintegration.”

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/v2CBled;
  1. China corruption Isaac Lawrence/Getty Images

    The Next Battle in China’s War on Corruption

    • Chinese President Xi Jinping knows well the threat that corruption poses to the authority of the Communist Party of China and the state it controls. 
    • But moving beyond Xi's anti-corruption purge to build robust and lasting anti-graft institutions will not be easy, owing to enduring opportunities for bureaucratic capture.
  2. Italy unemployed demonstration SalvatoreEsposito/Barcroftimages / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

    Putting Europe’s Long-Term Unemployed Back to Work

    Across the European Union, millions of people who are willing and able to work have been unemployed for a year or longer, at great cost to social cohesion and political stability. If the EU is serious about stopping the rise of populism, it will need to do more to ensure that labor markets are working for everyone.

  3. Latin America market Federico Parra/Getty Images

    A Belt and Road for the Americas?

    In a time of global uncertainty, a vision of “made in the Americas” prosperity provides a unifying agenda for the continent. If implemented, the US could reassert its historical leadership among a group of countries that share its fundamental values, as well as an interest in inclusive economic growth and rising living standards.

  4. Startup office Mladlen Antonov/Getty Images

    How Best to Promote Research and Development

    Clearly, there is something appealing about a start-up-based innovation strategy: it feels democratic, accessible, and so California. But it is definitely not the only way to boost research and development, or even the main way, and it is certainly not the way most major innovations in the US came about during the twentieth century.

  5. Trump Trade speech Bill Pugliano/Getty Images .

    Preparing for the Trump Trade Wars

    In the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has failed to back up his words – or tweets – with action on a variety of fronts. But the rest of the world's governments, and particularly those in Asia and Europe, would be mistaken to assume that he won't follow through on his promised "America First" trade agenda.