Nazi death camp survivor who helped inspire the Occupy movement;
Born: October 20, 1917; Died: February 26, 2013.
Stephane Hessel, who has died aged 95, was a former spy, prisoner of war, diplomat and intellectual who wrote the book that helped inspire the Occupy anti-capitalism movement which staged protests in Wall Street and the City of London.
As a spy for the French Resistance, Hessel survived the Nazi death camp at Buchenwald by assuming the identity of a French prisoner who was already dead. As a diplomat, he helped write the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And as a writer, his 32-page Time For Outrage! helped inspire a global movement and, after a distinguished but relatively anonymous life, transformed him into an intellectual superstar.
Hessel had expected Time For Outrage!, which was published in 2010, to be nothing more than a vanity project but it sold millions of copies across Europe and tapped into a vein of popular discontent with capitalism. In the book, Hessel urges young people to take inspiration from the anti-Nazi resistance to which he once belonged and rally against what he saw as the newest evil – the love of money.
Born in Berlin to a Jewish writer father and a journalist mother, Hessel and his parents moved to France in 1924, where they settled into an avant-garde life, hanging out with such artists as Alexander Calder and Marcel Duchamp.
In 1941, he fled to London to join the resistance led by de Gaulle, but sneaked back into occupied France on a spying mission in 1944, where he was arrested by the Gestapo and shipped off to Buchenwald. The day before he was to be hanged, he swapped his identity with another French prisoner who had died of typhus and he later managed to escape from a train while he was being transferred to another camp.
After the war, he joined the French diplomatic service and was a member of the panel which wrote up the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the panel also included former US first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. He then went on to hold a number of diplomatic posts.
According to Bertrand Delanoe, the mayor of Paris, his diplomatic work left an invaluable heritage of fighting for universal human values.
After retiring, Hessel made a name for himself with campaigns for the disadvantaged. A Socialist, he said the aim of Time For Outrage! was to convince adrift or discouraged young people that they could change society for the better – even if they felt the world was controlled by entrenched and financially powerful interests. But he hardly expected it would find a large audience in France, much less elsewhere.
He said he purposely offered no solutions in the book. "I am not giving them a meaning, but I am saying: 'Do try to find for yourself what would be meaningful.'"
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Hessel had succeeded in that goal. "In France, in Europe, in the world, Stephane Hessel was the spirit of resistance incarnate," he said. "For every generation, for young people, he was a source of inspiration but also a reference. At 95, he embodied faith in the future of this new century."
He is survived by his second wife Christiane and three children from his first marriage.
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