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Social activist Stephane Hessel dies at 95

The French resistance hero, Holocaust survivor and social activist's writing inspired millions around the world.
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2013 20:35

Stephane Hessel, a French resistance hero and Holocaust survivor whose 2010 manifesto Time for Outrage sold millions of copies and inspired protest movements worldwide, has died at the age of 95.

Hessel joined Charles de Gaulle in exile during World War II, was waterboarded by the Nazis, escaped hanging in concentration camps and took part in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

"He died overnight," his wife Christiane Hessel-Chabry told the AFP news agency on Monday.

The career diplomat was already celebrated as one of the last living heroes of the 20th century when, as a nonagenarian, he became the unlikely godfather of youth protest movements such as Occupy and Spain's Indignados.

Tributes poured in for Hessel on Wednesday, with French President Francois Hollande praising "the exceptional life" of a man he said was a symbol of human dignity and the UN celebrating a "monument" in the history of human rights.

Life in resistance

Born in Germany to a Jewish family which joined the Lutheran Church, Hessel's parents moved to France in 1924.

They served as the inspiration for the characters of Jules and Kathe in Henri-Pierre Roche's novel Jules et Jim, which later was made into an iconic film by French director Francois Truffaut.

Hessel became French in 1937. After watching the Nazis invade France, he heeded De Gaulle's appeal and went to London where he became a leading resistance figure.

He was captured by the Gestapo, tortured and deported to the Buchenwald and Dora concentration camps, where he escaped hanging by switching identities with a prisoner who had died of typhus.

After the war, Hessel was involved in editing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and became an indefatigable champion of social justice, human rights and the protection of the environment.

Time for Outrage, his 32-page essay that sold more than 4.5 million copies in 35 countries, inspired the Occupy  movement which began in New York's financial district and spread to other countries.

In the work, he said: "The reasons for outrage today may be less clear than during Nazi times. But look around and you will find them."

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Source:
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