“He leaves the youth a precious testimony, that a life can be useful by acts accomplished, by words pronounced,” Hollande, who was accompanied by his partner Valérie Trierweiler, said in his tribute to the veteran dissident, whose pamphlet Indignez-vous! (Time for rage!) sold over four million copies worldwide and inspired a generation of young activists when its author was 92.
The presidential couple sat next to Hessel’s widow, Christiane.
Actress Carole Bouquet read Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem La jolie rousse, which, she said, he was very fond of.
France's current Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Belgian prime minister Elio Rupo, former French PMs Lionel Jospin and Michel Rocard also attended, as did Jean-Louis Crémieux-Brilhac a 96-year-old who organised the dispatch of resistance fighters to France from exile with General Charles De Gaulle in London during WWII.
Hessel, who had a rich life, had been awarded the Légion d’Honneur and enjoyed a late flowering with his call for a return to the values of the resistance in the face of globalisation and unfettered capitalism.
“Amid rising disarray, growing scepticism about politics, you made a voice that crossed borders heard […] a voice of a young 90-year-old who said no to reject the deleterious reign of King Money,” Crémieux-Brilhac declared.
He was to be buried at Montparnasse cemetery after the ceremony.
More than 12,000 people have signed a petition for Hessel's body to be placed in the Panthéon, a privilege granted by the president to heroes of French life and culture.