You might never have heard his name, but Stephane Hessel was a great man, like martin Luther King, Emmeline Pankhurst and Helen Keller. This week, the former French Resistance leader passed away at the age of 95. Born in Berlin in 1917, Hessel emigrated with his family to France in and became a naturalized French citizen on the eve of the Second World War.
In 1941 Hessel fled the pro-fascist Vichy Government in France to Join Charles de Gaulle’s resistance forces. He helped organize communications networks throughout France in preparation for the Allied invasion in June of 1944. captured by the Nazis, Hessel was sent to the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp. Hessel faced torture by the Nazis, including waterboarding. After the war, Hessel became involved with the creation of the 1948 Universal declaration of Human Rights.
Hessel remained a champion for Human Rights throughout his life, and appealed together with “European Jews for a Just Peace” in 2006 for an end to Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon. He described Israeli attacks against Gaza in 2009 as war crimes and crimes against humanity, adding that “…this word must be used carefully, especially when one is in Geneva, the seat of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who may have an important opinion on that issue. For my part, having visited Gaza, having seen the refugee camps with thousands of children, the manner in which they are bombed appears as a veritable crime against humanity.”
His 2010 essay, “Indignez-vous!”, or “Time for Outrage” http://www.amazon.com/dp/1455509728/?tag=mh0b-20&hvadid=1450700429&ref=pd_sl_9jrs1z441u_e#_ struck a dramatic cord, arguably helping to spark the Arab spring and Spanish Inginados as well as the Occupy movement. It sold more than 31/2 million copies worldwide.
“It’s time to take over! It’s time to get angry!” Hessel implores in the essay. “Let us not be defeated by the tyranny of the world financial markets that threaten peace and democracy everywhere. I wish all of you to find your reason for indignation. This is a precious thing.”
In 2011, the former resistance leader spoke to Democracy Now about the Occupy Movement:
“It is proper for the young generation to listen to the very old ones who tell them, ‘We have been resisters at a time where there was fascism or Stalinism. You must find the things that you will not accept, that will outrage you. And these things, you must be able to fight against nonviolently, peacefully, but determinedly.’ That is why I am so happy about what happens these days in Wall Street, because they’re indeed very peaceful. They are not throwing any bombs or any stones, but they’re there determined to see that their values are to be respected.” http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2011/10/10/stphane_hessel_on_occupy_wall_street_find_the_time_for_outrage_when_your_values_are_not_respected
The importance of Stephane Hessel is that he illustrates, like Mandela, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and so many others who hold human rights and dignity as the ultimate standard-above politics, religion and economics-is that one person can indeed make a difference. Farewell, dear friend. We will pick up your torch and carry on.
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