Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Stephane Hessel

Stephane Hessel just this last December, 2012
Stephane Frederic Hessel was born in Berlin, October 20, 1917 and died last night, February 26th...he would have been 96 this year, but in the eyes of his admirers, Hessel had become timeless. He exuded an eternal youthful optimism, he seemed inexhaustible. In so many ways he was as young or younger than the millions of people who he inspired. He can very rightfully be called the Godfather of the Occupy Movement. His small 2010 pamphlet, Indignez-Vous sold over 4 million of copies world wide, translated into 18 languages. The English title is A Time For Out Rage. The title in French, Indignez-Vous became the genesis for the name of the non english speaking protestors who are the Occupy Movement. Les Indignes here in France or Los Indignados in Spanish. Here is a  link for a pretty good translation of Indignez-Vous! but, it is a little book and pretty cheap to buy for your self.
His next little book was called Engagez-Vous or in English, Get Involved!
But Hessel is a man who deserves his heroic legend, though, this self effacing man would never want to wear that cloak. His parents were intellectual Germans of Jewish origin, who moved to France after the first World War. They were involved in the post war art and literary world of Paris. His parents actually were the real life couple that Francois Truffaut based his classic film, Jules and Jim on. In this post War Parisian Intellectual World,  Stephane flourished. His chess instructor and friend was Marcel Duchamp. He graduated from the most prestigious French Schools in the late 30's, only to join the French Army in the mobilization of 1939.
Early on, Hessel joined the Resistance and became a propagandist and strategist with DeGaulle in London. He came back to France to take a more active role in the Resistance and was captured 3 times by the Germans, sent to Concentration Camps, tortured, sentenced to death and managed to escape and was finally spared death a third time when he was liberated by the Americans.
After the war, he became a career diplomat and in 1948, he worked with Eleanor Roosevelt in drafting the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  He has had a life long career as a diplomat involved with African and an outspoken and controversial advocate for the rights of the Palestinian People. On 5 January 2009, Hessel criticized the Israeli military attacks in the Gaza strip, saying "In fact, the word that applies—that should be applied—is 'war crime' and even 'crime against humanity'. But 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 statement was applauded by human rights advocates, but condemned by the supporters of Israel. To his credit, Hessel never backed down or shied away from controversy and was always able to respond with intellectual rigor and calm good humor. He was heroic in a way most of us could only fantasize, but he did it naturally and gracefully. I have been writing about him for the last 3 or so years here on this blog, documenting his writing and human rights work and tireless promotion of his ideas and passions. This, his 95th year on Earth found him finally slowing down and becoming frail, but he did write his final book on Palestine which he finished days before his quiet death. It will be released in March. Stephane Hessel is one of my true heroes. He was a man of the 20th Century with his mind already in the 22nd....He fought passionately for his belief in our goodness and our future. His last wish was that his ideas would outlive his name. I believe they will, but I also will do everything I can to make sure Hessel is remembered. Tonight in Paris, there is a mass rally and in other French cities to celebrate Stephane Hessel. If a modern French citizen ever deserved to be enshrined in the Pantheon, he is the man. 
Hessel in 2012!

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