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France honours Holocaust survivor Simone Veil at Pantheon

Veil is only the fourth woman to be honoured at the Pantheon, which also holds 72 men.

Holocaust survivor Simone Veil, one of France’s most revered politicians, has received the rare honour of being buried at the Pantheon, where French heroes are interred, one year after her death.

Veil was being buried Sunday at the Paris monument with her husband Antoine, who died in 2013, in a symbolic ceremony with her family and dozens of dignitaries, including French President Emmanuel Macron and former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande.

Veil repeatedly broke barriers for women in French politics. She was a firm believer in European unification and well known in France for spearheading the legalisation of abortion.

Republican Guard pallbearers carried the coffins to the Pantheon over a blue carpet symbolising the colour of peace, the United Nations and of Europe, as a crowd of thousands applauded.

They paused several times to mark the big steps of Veil’s life with the soundtrack of her voice and music, including Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the European Union’s anthem, and the Song of the Deported.

“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 became a fighter for women’s rights, peace and Europe, he noted.

The Marseillaise national anthem was then sung by the American soprano Barbara Hendricks and the Choir of the French Army, followed by a minute of silence.

The coffins were carried inside the Pantheon, where they will be buried in the crypt.

Veil is the fourth woman to be honoured at the Pantheon, which also holds 72 men.

Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte follow members of the French Republican Guard (AP)

The other women are two who fought with the French Resistance during the Second World War – Germaine Tillion and Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz – and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Marie Curie.

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 legalise abortion. The law is still known as the “Loi Veil”.

Veil also became the first elected president of the European parliament from 1979 to 1982. She died at the age of 89.

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