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French resistance hero and activist Hessel dies at 95

Stephane Hessel  -- whose work inspired the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement -- at his home in Paris, on February 8, 2011
A picture taken on February 8, 2011, shows Stephane Hessel -- a former French resistance fighter, diplomat and author -- at his home in Paris. Hessel, whose work inspired protest movements worldwide, has died at the age of 95, his wife told AFP..

French resistance hero and Holocaust survivor Stephane Hessel, whose 2010 manifesto "Time for Outrage" sold millions of copies and inspired protest movements worldwide, has died at the age of 95, his wife said Wednesday.

Hessel joined Charles de Gaulle in exile during World War II, was waterboarded by the Nazis, escaped hanging in concentration camps and took part in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

The career diplomat was already celebrated as one the last living heroes of the 20th century when, as a nonagenarian, he became the unlikely godfather of youth protest movements such as "Occupy Wall Street" or Spain's "Indignados".

Tributes poured in for Hessel, with French President Francois Hollande praising "the exceptional life" of a man he said was a symbol of human dignity and the United Nations celebrating a "monument" in the history of human rights.

"He died overnight," his wife Christiane Hessel-Chabry told AFP.

Born to a Jewish family which joined the Lutheran Church, Hessel's parents moved to France in 1924.

They served as the inspiration for the characters of Jules and Kathe in Henri-Pierre Roche's novel "Jules et Jim," which later was made into an iconic film by French director Francois Truffaut.

Hessel became French in 1937 and after watching the Nazis invade France without firing a shot. In anger, he heeded De Gaulle's appeal and went to London and then became a leading resistance figure.

He was captured by the Gestapo, tortured and deported to the Buchenwald and Dora concentration camps, where he escaped hanging by switching identities with a prisoner who had died of typhus.

After the war, Hessel was involved in editing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and became an indefatigable champion of social justice, human rights and the protection of the environment.

"Time for Outrage," his 32-page essay that sold more than 4.5 million copies in 35 countries, provoked the "Occupy Wall Street" movement which began in New York's financial district and spread to other countries.

It coincided with the Arab Spring revolutions which felled many long-serving dictators. Protests in Spain against corruption and bipartisan politics drew their name, the Indignants, from the Spanish title of Hessel's essay.

In the work, he said: "The reasons for outrage today may be less clear than during Nazi times. But look around and you will find them."

His reasons for personal outrage included the growing chasm between the haves and have-nots, France's treatment of its illegal immigrants and the abuse of the environment.

Hessel followed up his best-seller with another book "Get Involved" which focuses on saving the environment.

Speaking to AFP in March last year, Hessel said he was "astonished" by the success of "Time for Outrage," adding that it was probably due to the fact that it came at a "historic moment" when "societies were lost and were seeking ways on how to come out and looking for a sense of human adventure."

His seminal pamphlet was criticised by Jewish groups as anti-semitic but a flood of tributes poured in Wednesday.

Hollande said Hessel's "exceptional life was devoted to defending human dignity," adding: "He left us with an important lesson -- that of not resigning oneself to any injustice."

"Mr. Hessel was a monumental figure of human rights," said Poland's ambassador Remigiusz Henczel, chairman of the UN Human Rights Council. "His life will continue to inspire our work."

European Parliament president Martin Schulz said on Twitter: "Stephane Hessel, a great European, always involved, never satisfied, spurred by a spirit of combat and liberty. We will miss him."

Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe hailed him as a "world citizen".

Hessel served as a diplomat in Vietnam and Algeria and had been made ambassador for life.

His last published work came out in 2012. Called "Declare Peace! For a Progress of the Spirit," it comprises interviews with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.