Mad About Paris, Much more than a guide
“He was a citizen without frontier, an European without constitution, a politician without party, an optimist without limit”, said French President Francois Hollande when honouring Stéphane Hessel with a ceremony of national homage at the Dome des Invalides.
Photo: © AFP, Zacharie Scheurer
The German-born French resistance fighter, ex-diplomat and writer passed away on 27th of February at the age of 95.
Hessel was a phenomenon. At 93, he became a bestselling author after having published what you can call a brochure. “Time of Outraged” (Indigne-Vous! in the French original version) was a short appeal to resistance. His praise of indignation was only 22 pages long but it quickly became the manifesto the youth of the world, for anti-capitalist protest groups such as Indignados in Spain and Occupy Wall Street movement. It is estimated to have sold some 4.5 million copies worldwide.
Of course, Stéphane Hessel never expected this. It was his personal outcry of indignation against an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor, the situation in the Middle East and the way we treat our environment. He spoke out loud, and he was heard by so many. When I had the chance to visit and interview Stéphane Hessel at his home last April, he was ready to go.
“Death is a big project of mine, the experience could perhaps be the most interesting of my life,” he said, “I should not to live too long.” It was a very touching encounter. Hessel, who was still able to speak perfect German and recited some poems, spoke about his father who was the first translator of Proust in Germany; spoke about his mother, Helen Grund, who had a famous three-way love affaire with Hessel’s father and the Jean-Pierre Roché who, in 1953, wrote a novel about it, later adapted by François Truffaut and well known as “Jules et Jim”.
He wasn’t afraid to die. On the contrary. He was a happy man: “Life is behind us”, he said to me, “and for me it was beautiful.”
Beautiful, rich and full. And filled with love and what they call gentillesse in France, a touching friendliness that came out of his heart and had nothing to do with calculation. He had survived the concentration camp of Buchenwald what he considered as his second birth. It might be this, the gratefulness of being alive, that gave him this energy and happiness.
“He had a predilection for happiness”, François Hollande said today, “he believed in ideas, in social action, trying to bring them forward and to others hoping they could embody them.”
Last Wednesday, 27 of February, people came together at the Bastille where their lit candles for him. More than 12.000 people have signed a petition for Hessel’s body to be placed in the Pantheon, a privilege granted by the president to heroes of French life and culture. But what Hollande said might even be a bigger honour. His spirit, he said today, will never die: “This spirit has a name, it’s the name of the Republic.”