Stéphane Hessel was born in Berlin in 1917 of cosmopolitan German parents. His family moved permanently to Paris when he was seven. After experiencing the debacle of the French armies in 1940 he escaped from France via North Africa, and arrived in London in May 1941. He spent nine months training for the Free French Air forces but was then co-opted into de Gaulle's Secret Services (BCRA) in the section responsible for collecting intelligence information gathered by agents in France. He was sent as an agent to France in March 1944 but was arrested by the Gestapo on 19 July 1944 and deported to Buchenwald after interrogation and torture. After the war he embarked upon a diplomatic career ending as French Ambassador to the United Nations at Geneva. Since the war he has been an indefatigable defender of human rights inside and outside France -- a commitment which he sees a part of the same combat that had led him to join the "exhilarating adventure of the Free French."
He participated in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.