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Stéphane Hessel, inspiration for the Indignados, dies aged 95

Stéphane Hessel_IMG_9179Stéphane Hessel, the former French resistance fighter, diplomat and political activist, often regarded as the inspiration for the Indignados movement, the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring, died in Paris on Tuesday at the age of 95.

Born in Germany on October 20, 1917, his family moved to France in 1925 and Hessel acquired French citizenship in 1937. Almost right up to his death, Hessel remained engaged politically. His 2010 pamphlet Indignez-vous! (Time for Outrage!) sold more than 3.5 million copies and was considered the inspiration for the worldwide “Indignados” anti-austerity movement, reports Euronews.

In 1939, following the outbreak of the Second World war, Hessel, by then a naturalized Frenchman, was conscripted into the French Army. In 1940, he was taken prisoner by the Nazis but escaped and joined the French resistance. According to RFI English, during his time with the resistance, Hessel assisted the US consulate in arranging the escape of around 2,000 intellectuals from occupied Europe.

In 1941, Hessel moved to London to assist General de Gaulle in organising the Free French Movement. He returned to France in 1944, again to help the French Resistance but was captured once more and sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. After a failed attempt to escape Buchenwald, Hessel was moved to another concentration camp at Dora. During a subsequent transfer to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, he finally managed to escape the Nazis and was at liberty for the remainder of the Second World War.

After the war ended, Hessel was instrumental in drafting the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and embarked on a career as a French diplomat and politician. During the 1950s, he was posted to Indo-China in the lead up to Vietnamese independence. Subsequently, he had postings in many former French colonial hot-spots including Algeria and other former French colonies in Africa.

In 1981-82, continuing his interest in former French colonies, under France’s Socialist president François Mitterrand, Hessel worked on reform of France’s overseas aid programme and the former colonial power’s relationships with now independent Francophone states and remaining overseas territories.

But, it was in his later years that Hessel would become an inspiration to activist movements the world over. Always vocal in support of the rights of Palestinians in Israeli occupied territories, in late 2012, the author’s Paris home was daubed with slogans accusing this survivor of the concentration camps of being anti-Semitic.

His best selling pamphlet, Indignez-vous, had certainly touched on the Palestine problem but Hessel’s wide ranging call to action also covered environmentalism and income disparity, factors which were coming more to the fore as austerity measures began to bite across Europe. In Indignez-vous or Time for Outrage as it was known in English, Hessel called for the French to again become as outraged as were members of the French Resistance during wartime, this time because of the growing gulf between the very rich and the very poor as well as France’s treatment of illegal immigrants.

Time for Outrage! — Indignez-vous!

'Indignez-vous!’ ran to a mere 29 pages, was stapled together and had an original print-run of 8,000, reports the New York Times. Its impact was to be out of all proportion to its size. Hessel's tract was quickly adopted by anti-austerity protesters across Europe, most notably the Spanish “Indignados”

'Indignez-vous!’ was subsequently translated into more than a dozen languages and to date has sold more than 3.5 million copies worldwide. The Nation magazine's March 7–14, 2011 issue published the entire essay in English.

Stéphane Hessel introduced his 2010 publication of Indignez-vous! saying, “Ninety-three years. I’m nearing the last stage. The end cannot be far off.” But his concluding words will continue to strike a chord for years beyond his death with those who feel dislocated and alienated by events. For Stéphane Hessel, resistance was never futile: “...we continue to call for 'a true peaceful uprising against the means of mass communication that offers nothing but mass consumption as a prospect for our youth, contempt for the least powerful in society and for culture, general amnesia and the outrageous competition of all against all.'"

Stéphane Hessel, writer, activist, diplomat, politician and resistance fighter to his death, born October 20, 1917, died Paris, France February 26, 2013, is survived by his wife Christiane Hessel-Chabry, and three children from an earlier marriage.

Credit: Digital Journal

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