Stéphane Hessel – R.I.P.

by Charlie_East_West on February 28, 2013

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If I was going to draft an outline plot for a main character within a modern history novel, it would go something like this…

Once upon a time there was a boy who was born in Berlin, brought up in Paris by his writer and translator father, journalist mother and her lover in an unusual ménage à trois.

Later in life, having joined the French army, refusing to adhere to the Vichy government, he fled to London and joined a group of French Resistance fighters in 1941, and became a key part of the Free French Intelligence Service and Resistance communication networks during the Second World War.

He was then captured by the Gestapo and later deported to concentration camps in Germany, where he was repeatedly tortured by waterboarding. He escaped execution by exchanging his identity with a prisoner who had died of typhus. He later escaped during a transfer between concentration camps, where he met the advancing troops of the United States Army.

After the war, he was involved with editing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. He created the Association for Training in Africa and Madagascar and became its first president. He then became a campaigner against the Israeli military action in Lebanon and Gaza.

In 2010, he published an essay booklet called Indignez-Vous! (“Time for Outrage!”) – The booklet argued that the French needed to again become outraged, as were those who participated in the Resistance during World War II. The essay also highlighted the growing gap between the very rich and the very poor, France’s treatment of its illegal immigrants, the need to re-establish a free press, the need to protect the environment, importance of protecting a welfare system, highlighting the unjust plight of Palestinians. His main theme however, was to call for peaceful and non-violent insurrection against all forms of injustice. The book became a worldwide best seller – selling 5 million copies.

In 2011, he published Engagez-Vous! (“Get Involved!”) – the main themes were an appeal to his readers to save the environment and to embrace the positive, whilst highlighting the significance of luck in life.

During the Eurozone crisis, one of the names given to the protests against austerity programmes and corruption in Spain was ‘Los Indignados’, taken from the title and main themes of his Indignez-Vous essay. This provided the spark of inspiration towards protests in other countries including the Occupy protests in New York and London.

This story is not one of fiction, but of fact. It is the story of Stéphane Hessel, who died yesterday, aged 95. His raison d’etre was to peacefully stand up against injustice.

Stéphane Hessel was an inspiration. He was a great man. A life well lived. Quelle vie!.

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