|The late Stéphane Hessel, October 6, 2012, Russell Tribunal on Palestine. Photo by me.|
The great humanitarian and fighter against fascism and oppression, Stéphane Hessel died Tuesday at the age of 95. Here is a link to the NY Times obituary. Hessel was born in Berlin and became a naturalized French citizen in 1938 while still a student. He escaped to London to join DeGaulle after the Nazi occupation of France, then returned to fight in the Résistance, where he was capture three times in toward the end of the war, but managed to escape each time. Here’s a link to the Times obituary:
Among the things that this obituary leaves out are Hessel’s struggles with the creators of the United Nations to strengthen its commitment to human rights. He notes, for example, that Dag Hamarskjold was chosen as Secretary-General because he was considered a rather anodyne economist and wouldn’t stir things up. He turned out to be a very activist occupier of that office, whose death in a plane crash remains suspicious.
Hessel worked with Eleanor Roosevelt on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and became France’s first ambassador to the United Nations. He continued to struggle his whole life for justice, as he documents, among other things, in his impassioned autobiography Danse avec le siècle. He was also very involved in the art world, through Pierre Roché, his mother’s lover and father’s close friend, who was an art dealer, and famously the author of Jules et Jim. That 1953 novel and 1959 film by François Truffaut fictionalizes the love triangle—and and takes revenge on Hessel’s mother, Helen (Catherine in the novel and Truffaut film), by having her character drive off a bridge with her children and husband. In reality, she dumped him when she found out he had had a child in secret with another woman. But she had died 12 years before the novel came out.
I saw Hessel speak at the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, this past October, where he was as impassioned as ever. I wasn’t sure who he was, but I was impressed with his message and duly photographed him and added him to my Apostles of Justice collection (www.joelsimpsonart.com). The chairman of the conference held up his pamphlet Indignez-vous (A Time for Outrage) and stressed its role in inspiring the Occupy movement. All the official photographs of Hessel depict him as a benevolently smiling old man. But I saw him in the throes of his outrage as he addressed us (see photo, above), that same outrage which probably enabled him to survive Nazi torture and imprisonment, and which fueled his personal fight for human rights thereafter, to the world's enormous benefit.