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 56.

    A remarkable man. Bitter couldn't be further from the truth. Someone of great wisdom, who has lived life giving to others. If you don't know him make the time to learn about him. If you don't want to make the time that is your loss. His book was interesting but not world changing, but from what I have seen of him in interviews, a remarkably warm human being, and with a global legacy in UDHR. Adieu

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    @ if only
    ""Can you put Inspirational and French in the same sentence?"

    This thread is here only to bash the French. You succed and hope you feel better now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    I hadn't heard of him before either, but instead of whinging about it like a numpty, I looked him up, liked what I read, and ordered his book. There's more to the internet than the BBC, you know...

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I have never heard of him, but he sounds like a bit of a bitter man, understandably having been sent to Buchenwald. From what I know and what I have read though, most of the French "Resistance" were more interested in avoiding compulsory labour service in the Reich and feathering their own nests, through British cash or local political gain than defeating the Nazis. But fair play to him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Never heard of him, couldn't care less, he had a darned good innings, though........

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Who? Never heard of him. If Kim Kerdishan died, well that'd be something I'd care about!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Maybe the BBC is putting up these stories that some moaners don't deem important enough to make those same moaners take their whingeing somehere else and return the BBC to the standard it had a few years ago, when you could actually learn something from otehr posters rather than ending up in what's more like a vulgar pub brawl.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    To all the sad nobodies who have come on here to complain that the BBC won't let them have their say on some news story or other ...

    Do what this bloke did and write a book sharing your thoughts - if your thoughts are worthwhile you'll manage to reach as many people as he did - several million.

    Personally I think you'd struggle to sell copies to your immediate family

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    @44. Makes more sense than British and humble in the same sentence imo :p
    Stephane Hessel was a huge inspiration for millions of people since 2008 and the start of the world wide crisis. No wonder why he is almost unkown in the UK, where the medias are more successful than anywhere else in mass-brainwashing. RIP Stephane.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    He participated in editing the Universale declaration of Human Rights of 1948. He's the author of the world famous book Time for Outrage ("Indignez-vous" in French) that inspired the Indignados in Spain and Occupy Wall Street among many others.
    He also was the co-author of several very interesting and inspirational books.
    A great man, a great mind has left us...

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I lived in France most of my life, he was very well known and admired by all ages.

    I'm very encouraged by some of the side commentary here about the BBC 'forums'. We pay for the BBC and then their horde of apparatchiks 'allow' us to comment on the anodyne but close down anything that sails near the Guardianistas/BBC/Axis of Nanny. Give up TV, you have nothing to lose but your licence 'fee'!

  • Comment number 45.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Can you put Inspirational and French in the same sentence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    I'm sure he would be dismayed by today's opening of essentially a non-story. How dare the government bring back badger hunting, the RSPCA had assured them it would pay for vaccinations but they just want to rush it through.

    What next, they're already fox hunting near us..?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    never heard of him

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    40.In Gold I Trust
    What would people like Hessel who truly believed in the right to stand up against oppression feel about a media service that allows freedom of speech on non-stories and no such freedom on the big ones?
    Nothing. He took charge and reached 4.5 mio people instead of moaning and whingeing on a forum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    An interesting point has been raised here - What would people like Hessel who truly believed in the right to stand up against oppression feel about a media service that allows freedom of speech on non-stories and no such freedom on the big ones?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Probably the biggest loss to humanity since Michael Winner snuffed it. RIP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    An amazing man.

    In a time when 'celebrity' really just means someone loud or stupid enough to get attention, here we see a man who is articulate, passionate and an amazing diplomat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    34.Pete M
    The BBC is digging like mad to bury real news, but perhaps we should really do as Hessl says and not tolerate any assaults on our freedom. This government is trying its best to chain us up in red tape, and backdoor legislation aso that its Tory friends can make a profit from our money - hence the privitisation of the NHS.
    What would Hessel do I wonder to stop this?


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