This is a day to talk about strong women. CLEW has picked Simone Veil.
When we came to Birkenau, my mother, my sister Milou and I, we were like cattle. They touched us, stared at us and talked about us, and ever since I can’t stand random touching, we were hungry, thirsty, and ever since I’ve had trouble sleeping. The tattoo came early. First the hair cut, then the tattoo. That gave me a feeling of something final, an eternal damnation. The camp… there was a terrible stench lying over it, from the crematoriums, bodies burning nonstop, smoke always covering the sky. There was dirt everywhere, and very, very cold – I remember trees caught in the ice, the only memory of something a bit beautiful…
I was privileged and protected. Undoubtedly because I was 16 years old, and there weren’t many young faces. Besides, the women in our wagon weren’t shaved, we looked human. The camp commander, who was Polish and spoke a little French, took me aside and said: “You’re too young to die here. I’ll think of something to keep you alive.” I didn’t say that I would never leave my mother and sister. A few days later we were sent to work in Bobrek, in a small Siemens factory with quite relaxed discipline. I was there from July 1944 to January 1945. Then I was moved to the SS kitchen where I could steal a bit of food for my mother and sister. We had huge graters and had to fill barrels of potatoes for soup. We had to grate very fast, and I remember filling the barrels with as much skin and blood as potatoes…
My mother died of typhus in Bergenbelsen. She was in a terrible state, physically and morally. I think she wanted to die, because everything in her was extinct. People often ask me what made me stand it, what gave me the will power: I deeply believe it was her. My mother has always been with me. When I was elected President of the European Parliament, the symbolic aspect of a former deported person leading it was very important. I don’t know what my father would have felt; he remained so anti-German that I don’t know if he would have been pro-Europe. But I’m certain my mother would have wanted this reconciliation, and that my participation would have made her very happy.
– Translated from Simone Veil’s biography “Une Vie” (A Life, 2007)
Simone Veil (85) studied law and politics after the war and became a judge. In 1969 she entered politics and her political career escalated when President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing decided to feminize the government. She became known and celebrated for liberalizing birth control and getting the law on legal abortion through in France in 1975 (the Veil Law). She was and is a passionate European and became the first female president of the European Parliament in 1979. In 1993 she became the first female cabinet minister in France. In a 2010 survey, she was the woman the French admire the most. At age 85, Simone Veil is still active. She still glows.
About a strong woman. About the importance of a mother. About reconciliation. It’s all in her eyes.
By Unni Holtedahl, March 8, 2013