Tag Archives: European Union

Jew of the Week: Simone Veil

President of Europe

Simone Annie Liline Jacob (1927-2017) was born and raised in Nice, France. Just after finishing high school, her entire family was rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. Jacob’s mother, father, and brother perished in the Holocaust; two sisters survived. After being liberated from the camps, Jacob settled in Paris and studied law and politics. There, she met her soon-to-be husband Antoine Veil, with whom she would be married for 66 years. In 1956, she became a magistrate, and worked for the French Ministry of Justice, heading its penitentiary system. She was hailed for her role in dramatically improving prison conditions, and was known to regularly visit prisons on her days off. By 1964, Veil had become France’s Director of Civil Affairs. She worked tirelessly for women’s rights, and succeeded in finally getting French women full equality in legal matters. In 1970, Veil took over as secretary general of the Supreme Magistracy, then became Minister of Health in 1974, making her the first female minister in French history. Among her most famous laws was opening access to contraceptives, legalizing abortion (still known as “Veil’s Law”, which she intended only as a “last resort, for desperate situations”), and banning smoking in public areas. She also introduced maternity benefits, improved hospital conditions, enhanced the medical school curriculum, and worked to stop the illegal harvesting of organs from the deceased. Meanwhile, Veil worked for the European Economic Community, believing that a unified Europe was the only way to prevent another devastating war. When the EEC was reformed as the European Union, she was elected to its parliament, and shortly after, as its first president. She would serve on the European Parliament until 1993, in its Environment, Health, and Political Affairs Committees. Veil then returned to the French government, serving as Minister of State and Minister of Health until 1995. She continued her work in France and Europe until her last days, and faced a great deal of anti-Semitism throughout, including death threats and swastikas painted on her car and home. Not surprisingly, in recent years her greatest passion was Holocaust education, and she was president of the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah. Among her many awards are the prestigious Charlemagne Prize, the Truman Award for Peace, the Legion of Honour, and the Order of the British Empire. In 2008, Veil became one of the forty “immortal” members of the illustrious French Academy. She also held 18 honourary degrees, including one from Yale and another from Yeshiva University. Sadly, Simone Veil passed away earlier this year, just shy of her 90th birthday. She was laid to rest with full military honours in the Pantheon, Paris’ famous mausoleum, alongside just 71 of France’s most cherished figures, including Voltaire and Rousseau. She remains among the most revered women in French history.

Words of the Week

I say that we should regard all men as our brothers. What? The Turk my brother? The Chinaman my brother? The Jew? The Siam? Yes, without doubt; are we not all children of the same father and creatures of the same God?
– Voltaire

Jew of the Week: Ruth Dreifuss

President of Switzerland

Ruth Dreifuss (Photo Credit: Chatham House)

Ruth Dreifuss (Photo Credit: Chatham House)

Ruth Dreifuss (b. 1940) was born in Switzerland to a Jewish family that had been living in the country for many generations. She studied commerce and social work, and later earned a Master’s in economics from the University of Geneva. Dreifuss worked as a hotel secretary, journalist, and social worker before joining Switzerland’s Socialist Party. Throughout the 1970s, she worked for the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the 80s, she was the general-secretary of the Swiss Trade Union (the first woman to hold that position), and by 1993, was elected as an executive member of the Swiss Federal Council, the country’s official head of government. The council is made up of seven officials who collectively run the federal government, with each taking a turn as president for one year. Dreifuss’ turn as president came in 1999, making her the first female (and Jewish) president of Switzerland. This was a tremendous achievement, especially because Switzerland was the last country in Europe to grant equal rights to both women and Jews. During her tenure, she brought forth many improvements to Switzerland, including revisions of the country’s health insurance and social security systems. She helped make Switzerland a full member of the United Nations, implemented paid maternity leave, enhanced the country’s policies on pensions and drugs, introduced programs for prevention of HIV and drug addiction, and helped Holocaust victims retrieve their money from old Swiss bank accounts. After serving two and a half terms, the popular Dreifuss resigned from the federal council in 2002. Since then, she has chaired the World Health Organization’s Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation, and Public Health, and is also an important member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an organization composed of former female politicians and heads of state working to improve women’s rights globally. Dreifuss continues to play an important role within the European Union, and has been awarded honourary degrees from both Haifa University and Jerusalem’s Hebrew University for her tireless work in social justice, gender equality, and combating anti-Semitism.

Words of the Week

If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare me a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German, and Germany will declare that I am a Jew.
– Albert Einstein