In October 2010 Stephane Frédéric Hessel’s essay "Indignez-vous!" was published with a first printing of 6000 copies. By year's end 600.0000 copies had been sold. The publisher of this book is a small publisher working out of an attic in Montpellier, southern France, the book sold for €3, very very cheap in a country where book prices are regulated and kept high by the law.
Hessel's book argues that the French people need to get outraged again, as were those who participated in the French Resistance during World War II. Hessel's reasons for personal outrage include the growing gap between the very rich and the very poor, France's treatment of its illegal immigrants, the need to re-establish a free press, the need to protect the environment, the plight of Palestinians and the importance of protecting the French welfare system. He calls for peaceful and non-violent insurrection. The book's soaring sales reflect a general mood of French exasperation at the social inequalities of Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency. But the phenomenon is mostly down to Hessel's charisma and his life story.
Stephane Frédéric Hessel (born 20 October 1917) is a diplomat, former ambassador and French resistance fighter and BCRA agent. Born German, he obtained French nationality in 1937. He participated in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Hessel was born in Berlin to Helen Grund and the German writer Franz Hessel who inspired the character of Jules in Henri-Pierre Roche's novel Jules and Jim. Having graduated the Abitur (A-level) when 15 years old, he was addmitted in 1937 to the French Ecole Normale Superieure and simultaneously naturalized a French citizen, before being mobilized in the French Army in 1939 in Saint-Maixent.
Resistant during the Second World War, Hessel joined General de Gaulle in 1941, and was later deported to the Buchenwald and Dora concentration camps. Hessel escaped hanging in Dora and escaped with Forest Yeo-Thomas during a transfer to Bergen-Belsen by exchanging his identity with Michel Boitel, who was dying of typhus. After the war, Stephane Hessel was involved in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
In 1962 he created the AFTAM (Association for Training in Africa and Madagascar), of which he was president. As of 2008, AFTAM offered 22 000 beds. In August 1982 he was appointed for 3 years to the French High Authority of Audiovisual Communication, where he was responsible for private local radios. Stephane Hessel remains, at the age of 93, an Ambassador of France.
He is a member of the French Coalition for the Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence. Stéphane Hessel is also a founding member of the international ethical, political and scientific Collegium (or Collegium International). In 2003, along with other former resistants, he signed the petition "For a Treaty of a Social Europe" and in August 2006 an appeal against the Israeli air-strikes in Lebanon, published in French newspapers on behalf of the French Jewish Union for Peace. Stéphane Hessel was a member of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights and the High Council for International Cooperation.
Stéphane Hessel was made Grand Officier de la Légion d'honneur (Decree of 14 July 2006) and given the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit (Decree of 16 November 1999).
Stéphane Hessel participated in the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Program of the National Council of Resistance of 15 March 1944, which particularly urged the younger generations to live by and pass on the legacy of the resistance and its ever-current ideals of economic, social and cultural democracy. In 2004, he was awarded the North-South Prize by the Council of Europe.
On 21 February 2008 on the Place de la Republique in Paris, Stéphane Hessel denounced the French government's failure to comply with Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and called for the Government of the French Republic to make funds available to provide housing for the homeless. At the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on 10 December 2008, Hessel received the NESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights. On 5 January 2009, Stéphane Hessel made the following remarks on the Israeli military operations in the Gaza strip: “In fact, the word that applies - that should be applied - is 'war crime' and even 'crime against humanity'. But this word must be used cautiously, especially in Geneva, where the High Commissioner for Human Rights resides, and who may have an important opinion on that issue. As for myself, after visiting Gaza, after seeing refugee camps with thousands of children, the way they are bombed appears as a real crime against humanity.”