“I learn of the death of Stéphane Hessel with sorrow,” Hollande said in a statement Wednesday. “He was a great figure whose exceptional life was devoted to the defence of human dignity.”
Hessel’s pamphlet, which he followed up with Engagez-vous! (Get involved!) in 2011, served as an inspiration to youth protest movements, such as Spain’s Indignados, which in turn influenced the worldwide Occupy movement and the revolts in the Arab-speaking world.
“His capacity for indignation was without limits, apart from that of his own life,” Hollande said. “At the moment of his death he leaves us a lesson – to never resign ourselves to any injustice.”
Born in Germany to Jewish parents, who served as an inspiration for François Truffaut’s film Jules et Jim, Hessel came to France as a child and went on to join the French resistance to German occupation.
After World War II he became a diplomat and worked on the left of politics, as well as helping draft the UN’s declaration of human rights and working to aid decolonisation.
His support for Palestinian national rights won him criticism from supporters of Israel and Indignez-vous! made him an unlikely hero to young protesters in the 21st century.
Hessel wrote an introduction to the book Un Etat pour la Palestine (A state for Palestine), which presents the findings of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine and will be published in 20 March and published a book of interviews with the Dalai Lama last year.
Among other tributes:
- “I’d like us all to have such freshness of mind and capacity for indignation as he had at 95,” hard-left former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who, nevertheless, regretted that Hessel had supported Hollande in last year’s presidential election.
- Hessel was “a great Frenchman, whose courageous past as in the resistance, as a committed activist for causes that I did not always agree with is remembered by all”, Jean-François Copé, the president of the right-wing UMP;
- “Our country will sorely miss the authentic humanist, the indomitable resistance fighter and the generous thinker,” Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë.
- Hessel was a "master of not thinking" obsessed with making "Gaza the epicentre of injustice in this world and Hamas a peaceful movement", Richard Prasquier, president of the French Jewish council, Crif.
Stéphane Hessel, a life in dates:
1917: Born in Berlin to Franz and Helen Hessel (née Grund) ;
1925: Family moves to France;
1937: Acquires French nationality;
1939: Enrols at élite university, Normale Sup, marries Vita, with whom he will have three children, conscripted when war declared.
1940: Taken prisoner, escapes, joins resistance, works with US consulate in the escape of about 2,000 intellectuals;
1941: Joins General Charles De Gaulle in London;
1944: Sent to France on resistance mission, captured, sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, escapes execution by concealing identity;
1945: Sent to Dora concentration camp after failed escape attempt, successfully escapes while being transferred to Bergen-Belsen, becomes diplomat after liberation;
1946: Takes part in the drafting of the UN’s universal declaration of human rights;
1951: Becomes French human rights representative on international bodies;
1954: Joins prime minister Pierre Mendes-France’s office;
1955-57: In Vietnam to prepare independence from France
1958-63: Joins education ministry;
1963-69: Works as diplomat in Algeria;
1970-72: Works at UNDP in New York;
1972-76: Various foreign relations jobs, notably in Africa;
1977: Appointed France’s UN ambassador in Geneva;
1981-82: Under the presidency of François Mitterrand works on reform of France’s aid policy and relations with overseas possessions;
1982: Joins France’s broadcasting authority;
1986: Vitia dies;
1987: Marries Christiane Chabry;
1990-93: Appointed by prime minister Michel Rocard to committee on immigration, criticises “clientelism” in relations with African leaders in a report that is not published;
1993: Represents France at the UN human rights conference in Vienna;
2010: Publishes Indignez-vous, which sells 4.5 million copies worldwide;
2013: Dies in Paris.