Inspirational French writer Stephane Hessel dies at 95

Stephane Hessel in a picture taken 22 January 2011 in Paris Stephane Hessel remained an active debater into his 90s

Stephane Hessel, the former French Resistance fighter whose 2010 manifesto Time for Outrage inspired social protesters, has died aged 95.

Hessel died overnight, his wife Christiane Hessel-Chabry told France's AFP news agency in Paris.

A German by birth, he was imprisoned in Nazi camps during World War II for his activities in France.

In Time for Outrage, he called for a new form of "resistance" to the injustices of the modern world.

Start Quote

I'm using the time to throw out some messages”

End Quote Stephane Hessel Speaking in 2011 about his approaching death

He expressed outrage at the growing gap between haves and have-nots, France's treatment of illegal immigrants and damage to the environment.

The Indignados protest movement in Spain was inspired by Hessel's manifesto, according to Spanish media.

The 95-year-old's name was the top trending term on Twitter in Spain and France on Wednesday morning, as admirers paid tribute with quotes such as: "To create is to resist, to resist is to create."

Stephane Hesse was imprisoned in Nazi camps during World War II

French President Francois Hollande said he had learnt "with great sadness" about Hessel's death.

"His capacity for indignation knew no bounds other than those of his own life," he said in a statement. "As that comes to an end, he leaves us a lesson: to refuse to accept any injustice."

The chairman of the UN Human Rights Council, Poland's Remigiusz Henczel, said: "Mr Hessel was a monumental figure of human rights. His life will continue to inspire our work."

Camp survivor

Born of Jewish origin on 20 October 1917 in Berlin, Hessel arrived in France at the age of eight.


I first met Stephane Hessel in the early 1990s. He used to come round for interviews at the old BBC office on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore.

He was a great favourite, because he was unfailingly courteous. Diplomacy was his natural calling. He would wear a dark suit and some kind of old-fashioned hat - possibly a homburg - then, put before the microphone, argue gently but irresistibly on the subject at hand.

Over the years we would bump into each other. He lived around the corner from me in the 14th Arrondissement. He had first come to the neighbourhood in 1927!

He was already pretty old when I first met him, so he did not seem to get any older: a bald, grinning sparrow with impeccable manners. The last occasion was about a year ago, when he spoke of his wartime experiences.

I would say that in his bearing he was the least French of Frenchmen, and of course that reflects his origins. But in his ideas, his passion for justice, his belief in the ideal: that is France all over.

His parents Franz and Helen Hessel (born Grund) inspired two of the characters in Francois Truffaut's classic romantic film Jules And Jim.

A naturalised French citizen from 1939, Hessel became a prominent Resistance figure, says French news agency AFP. He was arrested by the Gestapo and later sent to the Buchenwald and Dora concentration camps.

After surviving the war, Hessel worked as a French diplomat at the UN, where he was involved in compiling the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

However some, like the French Jewish activist Gilles-William Goldnadel, have accused him of exaggerating his role in the work.

According to Mr Goldnadel, France's leftist press idealised the former Resistance fighter, a strong critic of Israeli policy, as a "secular saint".

Hessel's diplomatic postings also included Vietnam in the 1950s and Algeria in the 1960s.

In France, he took up the cause of illegal immigrants and championed the rights of the oppressed.

Time for Outrage, which has sold more than 4.5m copies in 35 countries, argues that the French need to again become outraged like those who participated in the wartime Resistance.

Whether Hessel inspired the global Occupy movement, as some have argued, is more open to debate.

Speaking to the European broadcaster RTL in 2011, Hessel gave his thoughts on dying.

"I'm eagerly awaiting the taste of death," he said.

"Death is something to savour, and I hope to savour mine. In the meantime, given that it has not yet happened and that I'm generally getting around normally, I'm using the time to throw out some messages."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    axax/leslie48- Now now,this is becoming very of you accuses me of inconsistency,the other of being a member of the 'lower'orders,and all because I had the temerity to state in this public forum that I am oblivious regarding the (former) existence of a man who is obviously a hero to you both. Sorry to be the cause of so many ruffled feathers.

    I believe we are all done here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    We must never forget The Greatest Generation.

    I was stunned when some members of the Millennial Generation I met recently had no idea who Hitler or the Nazis were.

    Our great work must be to teach our young what went wrong in the 20th century: war, genocide, politics, nuclear proliferation, technology of slaughter, propaganda, economics, banking, inflation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    A truly great man. We can all learn something from him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    A gentleman, pleased to stand up for the oppressed in an articulate and polite manner. Inspirational.
    Interesting to see so many low rated comments from those so keen show their ignorance, and shout their pride in that ignorance from the roof tops. :) .

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Thanks for your English courses - much appreciated, I'll make good use of it :)
    You are of course entitled to your opinion. I am just mentioning here the inconsistency in your writings (hope this time my English was better).


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