Sunday, March 03, 2013

The son of Jules and Jim is dead

Stéphane Hessel died in Paris on 27 February, 2013, at the age of 95.

He was "the son of Jules and Jim", born in Berlin on 20 October 1917 to Helen Grund and Franz Hessel, who emigrated to Paris in 1924. Henri-Pierre Roché, Franz's friend and Helen's lover, was Stéphane's "second father". Roché's novel Jules et Jim (1953) is based on the true-life triangle.

His mother had passed on to him "an intense happiness at existing", said Hessel. He visited the École Normale Supérieure, was influenced by Jean-Paul Sartre, enlisted in the French army and after the German occupation joined de Gaulle's group of Resistance in 1941.  While organizing communication networks for the Allied landing in France Hessel was caught by the Gestapo, tortured and sent to Buchenwald. Just before he was to be hanged he swapped identities with a dead prisoner. Later he escaped captivity by leaping from a train.

Hessel became a diplomat, and contributing to the United Nations human rights declaration was a highlight of his life. Hessel created the Association for Training in Africa and Madagascar. He dedicated his life to the cause of underdeveloped countries and immigrants. He was also an activist in European Jews for a Just Peace defending the rights of Palestinians.

In 2010 he published the pamphlet Indignez-vous! (Time for Outrage!) with topics ranging from the growing gap of the rich and the poor, the treatment of illegal immigrants, the free press, the protection of the environment, the welfare society, and the plight of the Palestinians. His book became an inspiration for the Occupy Wall Street movement. His final book was Engagez-vous! (2011).

Inspired by the obituary written by Simon Kuper in Financial Times Weekend (2 March 2013).

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