Stephane Hessel is dead (1917 – 2013)

“To create is to resist, to resist is to create.”

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Stéphane Hessel, German-born French diplomat, ambassador, writer, concentration camp survivor and former French Resistance fighter has died, aged 95.

Mr. Hessel was a huge inspiration and grandfatherly figure here in France. He was humanism personified. He was also a dissident and iconoclast. Two years ago he published a small manifesto entitled Indignez-vous!loosely translated as Time for Outrage. We all bought a copy. It sold more than 3.5 million copies worldwide and inspired global protest and the Occupy Wall Street movement. At the age of 93, Hessel became a celebrity. We saw him frequently on television.

Born into a Jewish family in Berlin in 1917, he was the son of a journalist and a writer. The family moved to France when Hessel was eight and he took French nationality. Refusing to adhere to the Vichy collaborationist government of Marshal Pétain, Hessel fled to London and became a member of the French resistance during World War II. After returning to France he was captured by the Gestapo and deported to Buchenwald and Dora concentration camps. At war’s end in 1948, Hessel was involved with Eleanor Roosevelt in editing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Hessel “leaves us with the invaluable heritage of fighting for universal human values and his inalienable sense of liberty.” said the mayor of Paris today.

A proud Socialist, Hessel said the aim of his political pamphlet, “Time for Outrage“, was to convince adrift or discouraged young people that they can change society for the better – even if they feel the world is controlled by entrenched and financially powerful interests. “The reasons for outrage today may be less clear than during Nazi times,” he said, “But look around and you will find them.” Among the causes for outrage he enumerated throughout his life and in his work were growing economic disparity, France’s treatment of illegal immigrants and the destruction of the natural environment.

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In a world of seemingly fewer heros, Stephane Hessel was the spirit of resistance incarnate. For every generation, but especially for young people, he was a source of inspiration and also a reference.  Tributes are pouring in for this man called an “éveilleur de consciences“, a conscience awakener.

Adieu, Monsieur Hessel. Et merci. The world is a poorer place without you.

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