Simone Veil: A Portrait of a Courageous Leader


An example of a female leader…

Simone Veil


“We are leading today’s youth along paths of hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia. There are many false prophets in France, Europe, and the world today.”

-Simone Veil

In my column from last Thursday, I was decrying that courageous leadership has not seemed to increase over the past year, whether in psychiatry or society. Then I saw the movie “Simone: Woman of the Century,” and despite the possible hyperbole of the title, thought “here is our model.”

Actually, the movie was released in the shadow of another movie about leadership from World War II and the Holocaust. That was the award-winning “Oppenheimer,” focusing on the Jewish scientist who led the atomic bomb project in the United States. Though the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war against Japan, he later had regrets and his leadership opportunities diminished.

Simone Veil was a Holocaust survivor from France who was 16 when she was deported to Auschwitz. Losing beloved family but surviving, she is depicted as suffering from horrific flashbacks soon after liberation.

While raising a family, she broke many barriers for the role of a woman in France. She became a lawyer, then became the first female head of the European Parliament in 1979. Along the way, among other things, she improved life for Algerians in prison, responded to the AIDS crisis, kept the Holocaust memory alive, addressed the reemergence of anti-Semitism, and fought successfully for the legalization of abortion in 1974. She died in 2017 and was selective for the Pantheon in 2018.

So much of her concerns and Tikkun Olam, trying to help heal the world, has also been taking place in the United States. Note some similarity as young Black males are overrepresented in prisons; the COVID-19 pandemic was neglected during its onset; amidst rising anti-Semitism, the Holocaust trauma was triggered by the invasion of Israel by Hamas; Islamophobia has increased; and the federal right to abortion was rescinded.

Though we have not had a woman President of the United States, we have had many recent women Presidents of the American Psychiatric Association, and now will have a Black woman CEO come May 2024.

Simone Veil can be a courageous model, not only for women, but all of us. She was able to overcome trauma with resilience and corrective action. I do not know if psychiatry played a role. Any way to learn more about her life would likely be of value.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

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