Sarkozy greets Simone Veil.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
July 14. Today, garlanded in sunshine, is Bastille Day, la fête nationale (the
national festival) commemorating the storming of the Bastille prison at the
beginning of the French Revolution.
The nation sings lustily its rousing
War Song for the Army of the Rhine, La Marseillaise: “Allons, enfants de la
Patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé!” (Arise, children of the Fatherland! The
Day of Glory has come!) The head of state is leading the largest regular
military parade in Europe. He rides along the tree-lined Champs-Élysées at the
heart of this great republic, reviewing the serried ranks. And here he comes!
President Nicolas Sarkozy is surrounded by a galloping escort of scarlet-plumed,
golden-helmeted cavalry, and over 5,000 troops in combat gear. He looks solemn
at first, for yesterday the Taliban murdered another five French soldiers
(today, the 70th will die in Afghanistan). France is bombing Gaddafi in Tripoli,
and trying to help keep the peace in Lebanon and Kosovo.
responsibilities on the president’s shoulders are enormous.
press is complaining the nation can’t afford all these military commitments, and
her troops are overstretched. But Monsieur Sarkozy wishes France to defend human
rights around the world, and “boxer au-dessus de sa catégorie
” (to box above her
But suddenly he seems to see a friendly face in the crowd, for
he smiles broadly and starts to wave.
He waves and waves, and seems
transformed. As head of state, he is also supreme chief of the armed forces, and
some criticize him for not snapping off a military salute. But he’s a civilian
at heart, a lawyer by training, and a politician to his very marrow.
arrives at the Tribune in the Place de la Concorde, once called Place de la
Révolution. Here the fearful guillotine cut off the heads of Louis XVI and Queen
Marie Antoinette. Ever hungry, it demanded even more blood. So Robespierre and
Danton, the revolutionary regicides, died their heads rolled here,
As he ascends the Tribune– oh! This is unscheduled! He has suddenly
moved off track! He is not going to his seat! Where is he going? The president
appears to have seen somebody. He has made a bee-line for her! “Qui c’est? Qui
?” all the people want to know – “Who is it? Who is it?” He kisses and
embraces her warmly, spontaneously, both of them beaming, and they exchange some
words. “Qui c’est? Qui c’es
? Pass me the binoculars! Let me see! Who is it? Who
is it? Oh! Veil! It’s Simone Veil!” An “Immortelle
” – a member of the most
exclusive Académie Française – she sits on Racine’s fauteuil
woman president of the European Parliament (after direct elections), she was
also health minister four times. So that she could be appointed as grand
officier de la Légion d’honneur
without having to pass through the obligatory
lower grades, Monsieur Sarkozy himself had the rules changed. Last year, an Ifop
poll found her to be France’s most popular woman, at the age of 84! Wow! In
1944, a tank of De Gaulle’s Free French destroyed the sole remaining German tank
on this very stretch. To many, this symbolized the liberation of Paris from Nazi
occupation. To Jews, it also meant the end of Paris’s convoys to the death
camps. Madame Veil is honorary president of the Foundation for the Remembrance
of the Shoah. This is of special significance for her. Indeed, her Immortelle
sword has her Auschwitz tattoo number inscribed on it.
there is the French republic’s motto “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité
Héroïne Niçoise savors those words, for she witnessed the worst that can happen
when those ideals are discarded.
She lost her parents in the camps, but
she managed to survive, rose to great heights, and now all the republic’s eyes
are on her.
Though grieving for France’s fresh sacrifices on the altar of
those ideals, this day is truly one of glory for the Republic and for her. She
and the president are beaming. Jewry, like the rest of France, looks on happily,
proud of their daughter.
And so we all sing, with great gusto, “Allons,
enfants de la Patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé!
” The writer is a
multilingual international lawyer and frequent commentator on