Missak and Mélinée Manouchian, symbols of foreign resistance in France

Missak and Melinee Manouchian symbols of foreign resistance in France

On February 21, 2023, the ashes of Missak and Mélinée Manouchian enter the Pantheon. The one who was the operational leader of the foreign communist resistance in France was shot on February 21, 1944 at Mont Valérien near Paris, with 21 other supporters. His wife, who became French in 1946, survived him until 1989.

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Missak Manouchian was born in 1906 in what was then the Ottoman Empire. Like his future wife Mélinée whom he met in 1934, the day after the far-right riot of February 6which led them both to join the French Communist Party, he is an orphan survivor of the Armenian genocide mainly perpetrated in 1915 and 1916. Both have had stateless status in France since the mid-1920s.

Both also joined the Armenian Relief Committee, which with 7,000 members constitutes the first language section of the MOI, Immigrant Labor Force, which organizes foreign communist activists in France. They married in 1937. Missak Manouchian is a worker, but also an intellectual, poet, translator, editor-in-chief of an activist newspaper.

War declared between France and Nazi Germany September 2, 1939 placed communist activists in an uncomfortable situation, even more so foreigners. Hitler and Stalin in fact signed a non-aggression pact, known as the German-Soviet Pact, which made the USSR a potential enemy of France.

From stateless refugees to “undesirable foreigners”

Arrested by the French authorities, Missak chose to join the army against party directives. Like many refugees, Missak and Mélinée can enter the category of “undesirable foreigners”, according to a decree-law of November 1938, and thus join the internment camps who since November 1939 also incarcerated communist activists. Like many foreign anti-Nazi activists, their entry into hiding preceded the Occupation, if not the war.

In June 1941, Missak Manouchian was arrested again, again as a communist, this time because Nazi Germany had started theOperation Barbarossa against the USSR. The Soviets become enemies of occupying Germany and its French collaborators. Released, he joined the Clandestine Immigrant Labor Force and became the political leader of the Armenian section. Until February 1943, the couple worked in what is called “German work”.

This involves encouraging the aid or even the desertion of anti-Nazi soldiers enlisted in the Wehrmacht, until their entry into the Resistance. In April 1942, foreign communist partisans founded the FTP-MOI – Francs-tireurs partisans, immigrant workforce. Many are Jewish, condemned in fact to live in hiding, when they can under a false identity. From the end of 1942, the FTP-MOI carried out an action every two days.

From communist activists to partisans

Forced against his will into the armed struggle, Missak Manouchian led his first attack in March 1943. Despite his indiscipline, he found himself at the head of the FTP-MOI during the summer in place of Boris Holban, dismissed from his position for having challenged party directives. It was under his command that Julius Ritter, an SS colonel in charge of the STO (compulsory labor service) in France was shot dead in the street in September.

If the military results of the FTP-MOI remain modest, their symbolic impact is exceptional. There French police, an expert in spinning, is responsible for dismantling the network. After two first waves of arrests in the spring and summer of 1943, she chose to remain discreet, discreetly weaving her web to the heads of the network. On November 16, she managed to dismantle the entire Parisian group. Missak and 67 other members of FTP-MOI were arrested.

The day before, Mélinée had been arrested in the metro with a bag full of weapons. When the policeman asked her what she was doing, she replied: “I carry guns”. The agent had let her go, reprimanding her for this bad joke. The evening of Missak’s arrest, she found refuge with the parents of the man who would become the singer after the war. Charles Aznavour.

From members of “the army of crime” with symbols of the French resistance

Tortured, Missak is sentenced to death after a travesty of trial. To his accusers collaborationists he throws : “You have inherited French nationality. We deserved it. » After his death, his image and his name were one of the ten profiles selected by the Nazis to create the red poster plastered in Paris to denounce “the army of crime”. For each, we emphasize foreign origin. Seven of them are Jewish, we obviously take care to specify.

Before dying, Missak wrote a last letter to Mélinée: “Happiness to those who will survive us and taste the sweetness of Freedom and Peace of tomorrow. I am sure that the French people and all the Freedom Fighters will honor our memory with dignity. At the moment of death, I proclaim that I have no hatred against the German people or against anyone, everyone will have what they deserve as punishment and as reward. »

From this letter, Aragon wrote a poem in 1955 which was put into song by Léo Ferré. Mélinée will join the Soviet Republic of Armenia for a time before being repatriated to France, horrified by the reality of Stalinism and its sequels. During the Prague trials in 1952, Artur London, another former member of the FTP-MOI, then minister in Czechoslovakia, was sentenced to life in prison, an experience he recounted in the book The Confessionpublished in France in 1968. Mélinée was made a knight of the Legion of Honor in 1986, three years before her death in Fleury-Mérogis, in the Paris suburbs.

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