Missak Manouchian

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Missak Manouchian
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1983-077-09A, Französischer Widerstandskämpfer.jpg
Portrait kept in the German Federal Archives and reproduced on the Affiche rouge.
Born (1906-09-01)September 1, 1906
Adıyaman, Ottoman Empire
Died February 21, 1944(1944-02-21) (aged 37)
Fort Mont-Valérien, Paris
Ethnicity Armenian
Citizenship French
Organization Main-d'œuvre immigrée
Known for role in the French Resistance

Missak Manouchian (Armenian: Միսաք Մանուշեան, 1 September 1906 – 21 February 1944) was a French–Armenian poet and a communist activist. He actively engaged in the French Resistance during World War II. Manouchian was the military commissioner of FTP-MOI in the Paris region. He was executed by the Nazis.

Early life and education[edit]

Missak Manouchian was born on 1 September 1906 at Adıyaman of Vilayet of Mamuret-ul-Aziz in the Ottoman Empire into an Armenian peasant family. Manouchian's father died during the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and his mother died soon afterward.

Missak and his brother, Karabet, now orphaned, joined the stream of Armenian refugees heading south into the French protectorate of Syria. The brothers were accepted at an orphanage, where they learned the French language, and acquired carpentry and other manual skills. They remained until they were able to secure passage to Marseilles, where they landed in 1925, when Manouchian was 19.

Work and politics[edit]

Eventually, the brothers moved to Paris, where Missak took a job as a lathe operator at a Citroën plant and joined the General Confederation of Labour (in French: Confédération Générale du Travail or CGT). This national association of trade unions was the first of the five major French confederations.

His brother Karabet Manouchian died in 1927 of unknown causes. In the early 1930s, when the world-wide economic crisis of the Great Depression set in, Missak Manouchian lost his job. Disaffected with capitalism, he began earning a meager living by posing as a model for sculptors.

In 1934, Manouchian joined the Communist Party. The following year, he was elected secretary of the Relief Committee for Armenia (HOC), an organization associated with the MOI (Immigrant Workforce Movement). At a meeting of the HOC in 1935, he met Mélinée Assadourian, who became his companion and, later, his wife.

Literary career[edit]

Manouchian wrote poetry and, with his Armenian friend who used the pseudonym of Séma (Kégham Atmadjian), founded two literary magazines, Tchank (Effort) and Mechagouyt (Culture).[1] They published articles on French literature and Armenian culture. The two young men translated the poetry of Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Rimbaud into Armenian, making many of these works available in Armenian for the first time. Both Manouchian and Séma enrolled at the Sorbonne to audit courses in literature, philosophy, economics, and history. In 1935, Manouchian assumed responsibility for the Armenian-language weekly newspaper, Zangou, named for an Armenian river.

World War II[edit]

When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, Manouchian as a foreigner was evacuated from Paris. He found work in the Rouen area, again as a lathe-operator. After the defeat of June 1940, he returned to Paris to find that his militant activities had become illegal. (French authorities had banned the Communist Party as early as September 1939.) On 22 June 1941, when the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Nazis began, Manouchian was arrested by the occupying Germans in an anti-Communist round-up in Paris. Interned in a prison camp at Compiègne, by the efforts of his wife he was released after a few weeks without being charged.[2]

Manouchian became the political chief of the Armenian section of the underground MOI, but little is known about his activities until 1943. In February of that year, Manouchian transferred to the FTP-MOI, a group of gunmen and saboteurs attached to the MOI in Paris. On 17 March 1943, Manouchian at age 36 participated in his first armed action, in Levallois-Perret.

Joseph Epstein, head of a group of FTP-MOI, became the head of all of the partisan guerrilla fighters in the Paris region. Manouchian assumed command of three detachments, totaling about 50 fighters. The Manouchian group is credited with the assassination on 28 September 1943, of General Julius Ritter, the assistant in France to Fritz Sauckel, responsible for the mobilization and deportation of labor under the German STO (the Obligatory Work Service) in Nazi-occupied Europe. (The attack was made by the partisans Marcel Rayman, Léo Kneller, and Celestino Alfonso.) The Manouchian groups carried out almost thirty successful attacks on German interests from August to November 1943.[3]

In March and July 1943, the Special Brigade No. 2 of General Intelligence made two sweeps, looking for resistance activists. (The Special Brigades were a collaborationist French police force specializing in tracking down "internal enemies": members of the French Resistance, dissidents, escaped prisoners, Jews, and those evading the STO.) The Special Brigades undertook a large operation based on tailing suspected activists, an effort which eventually led to the complete dismantling of the FTP-MOI of Paris in mid-November. They arrested a total of 68 persons, including Manouchian and Epstein. On the morning of 16 November 1943, Manouchian was arrested in his headquarters at Évry-Petit Bourg. His companion, Mélinée, managed to escape the police.[4]

Manouchian and the others were tortured to gain information, and eventually handed over to the Germans' Geheime Feldpolizei (GFP). The 23 were given a 1944 show trial for propaganda purposes before execution. Manouchian and 21 of his comrades were shot at Fort Mont-Valérien near Paris on 21 February 1944. Only Olga Bancic, the twenty-third member of Manouchian's inner circle, was executed elsewhere; she was beheaded in the prison at Stuttgart on 10 May 1944.[5]

The last letter[edit]

Manouchian's last letter to his wife has been preserved. Melinée Manouchian eluded Nazi capture and survived the war.

My dear Melinée, my beloved little orphan,
In a few hours I will no longer be of this world. We are going to be executed today at 3:00. This is happening to me like an accident in my life; I don’t believe it, but I nevertheless know that I will never see you again.
What can I write you? Everything inside me is confused, yet clear at the same time.
I joined the Army of Liberation as a volunteer, and I die within inches of victory and the final goal. I wish for happiness for all those who will survive and taste the sweetness of the freedom and peace of tomorrow. I'm sure that the French people, and all those who fight for freedom, will know how to honor our memory with dignity. At the moment of death, I proclaim that I have no hatred for the German people, or for anyone at all; everyone will receive what he is due, as punishment and as reward. The German people, and all other people, will live in peace and brotherhood after the war, which will not last much longer. Happiness for all ... I have one profound regret, and that’s of not having made you happy; I would so much have liked to have a child with you, as you always wished. So I'd absolutely like you to marry after the war, and, for my happiness, to have a child and, to fulfill my last wish, marry someone who will make you happy. All my goods and all my affairs, I leave them to you and to my nephews. After the war you can request your right to a war pension as my wife, for I die as a regular soldier in the French army of liberation.
With the help of friends who'd like to honor me, you should publish my poems and writings that are worth being read. If possible, you should take my memory to my parents in Armenia. I will soon die with 23 of my comrades, with the courage and the serenity of a man with a peaceful conscience; for, personally, I've done no one ill, and if I have, it was without hatred. Today is sunny. It’s in looking at the sun and the beauties of nature that I loved so much that I will say farewell to life and to all of you, my beloved wife, and my beloved friends. I forgive all those who did me evil, or who wanted to do so, with the exception of he who betrayed us to redeem his skin, and those who sold us out. I ardently kiss you, as well as your sister and all those who know me, near and far; I hold you all against my heart. Farewell. Your friend, your comrade, your husband,
Manouchian Michel
P.S. I have 15,000 francs in the valise on the rue de Plaisance. If you can get it, pay off all my debts and give the rest to Armenia. MM

The red poster[edit]

Main article: Red Poster

In the wake of the executions, the Germans printed 15,000 propaganda posters on red background paper. The red posters (Affiche Rouge) became famous. They bore photos of ten of the dead, each within its own black medallion. The center photo of Manouchian had the following inscription: "Armenian gang leader, 56 bombings, 150 dead, 600 wounded." The poster was intended to portray the members of MOI (and the Resistance in general) as criminal, murderous foreigners who were a danger to law-abiding, cooperative citizens. But people marked the red posters with "Morts pour la France!" (they died for France). Pasted on walls all over Paris, the posters became emblems of martyrdom by freedom fighters, and contributed to popular support for the Resistance.

Legacy and honors[edit]

Mural of Manouchian in a street in Paris
  • In 1955, on the occasion of the dedication of a Paris street named for the Manouchian group, Louis Aragon wrote a poem, "Strophes pour se souvenir", loosely inspired by the last letter that Manouchian wrote to his wife Mélinée.[6] In 1959 Léo Ferré set the poem to music and recorded it under the title "L'Affiche rouge". The last stanza of Aragon's poem is:
They were twenty-three when the rifles blossomed
Twenty-three who gave their hearts before their time
Twenty-three foreigners but still our brothers
Twenty-three who loved life to death
Twenty-three who cried out “France!” as they fell.
  • Manouchian posthumously was awarded the Legion of Honor highest order.[7]
  • The mayor of Évry named a park along the Seine for Manouchian. He erected a memorial at the site of Manouchian's arrest.
  • A commemorative plaque was installed on 21 February 2009 by the mayor of the city of Paris at 11 rue de Plaisance, in the 14th arrondissement; several former Resistance fighters attended the ceremony. The old hotel at this address was the last home shared by Mélinée (born Assadourian) and Missak Manouchian.
  • In 1985, Mélinée Manouchian said that communist comrades of the executed victims had done nothing to prevent their capture and murders. Her comments were controversial and prompted debate.
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, new film documentaries on the Resistance offered differing accounts of the possible role of the Communist Party related to capture of the Manouchian group.[8]
  • The 2009 film The Army of Crime (directed by Robert Guédiguian) is dedicated to Manouchian and his group.[9]
  • On 13 March 2014 the Missak Manouchian Park was opened in central Yerevan, the Armenian capital, in attendance of Presidents Serzh Sargsyan and François Hollande.[10][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Séma (Kégham Atmadjian -1910-1940)
  2. ^ Missak Manouchian - Ein armenischer Partisan
  3. ^ San Diego Jewish Film Festival preview: ‘Army of Crime’
  4. ^ (in Russian) Армянский боец французского Сопротивления
  5. ^ "Last letters of The Manouchian Group, May 1944. Olga Bancic", in Philippe Ganier Raymond, L'Affiche Rouge, Paris: Fayard, 1975; (translated by Mitch Abidor and published on Marxists Internet Archive)
  6. ^ The Red Poster, by Louis Aragon
  8. ^ American film, Volume 11, American Film Institute, 1985, p. 34
  9. ^ STEPHEN HOLDEN, "Outsiders in French Society, Battling Occupiers and Collaborators", 'New York Times, 19 August 2010
  10. ^ Gevorgyan, Alisa (13 May 2014). "Missak Manouchian Park opens in Yerevan". Public Radio of Armenia. Archived from the original on 26 November 2014. 
  11. ^ "Hollande, Sargsyan Attend Manouchian Park Opening". Hetq Online. 13 May 2014. Archived from the original on 26 November 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Stéphane Courtois, "Missak Manouchian", in Biographical Dictionary of the French labor movement, Workers Publishing.
  • Stéphane Courtois, Denis Peschanski, Adam Rayski, Blood from abroad - Immigrants of the MOI in the Resistance, Paris: Fayard, 1989.
  • Didier Daeninckx, Missak, Perrin, 2009.
  • Philippe Ganier-Raymond, The Red Poster, Fayard, 1975
  • Gaston Laroche, They were called foreigners, the French gathered Publishers, 1965.
  • Mélinée Manouchian, Manouchian, The French Publishers meeting, Paris, 1954; reprint 1974.
  • Benoit Rayski, The Red Poster, Denoel Publishing, Paris 2009.
  • A. Tchakarian, Les Francs-shooters of the Red Poster, Paris, 1986.
  • Serge Venturini, "Missak Manouchian", in Shards: of a poetics of becoming transhuman, 2003-2008 (Book III), collection Poets of the five continents, Paris: Editions L'Harmattan, 2009, (book dedicated to Missak Manouchian) (ISBN 978-2-296-09603-5), pp. 104–116.

External links[edit]