France to honour foreign Resistance member: who was Missak Manouchian?

Armenian-born hero was executed only months before liberation. He will be first ‘official’ communist to be interred in the Panthéon

A mural of Manouchian, and the Panthéon where he will be interred with his wife
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France will add its 82nd person to the Panthéon tomorrow (February 21), a hero of the French Resistance movement during World War Two who was executed shortly before liberation.

Armenian-born Missak Manouchian will be interred in the building, alongside his wife Mélinée, becoming only the seventh non-French born person given the honour.

The Manouchians will be the first people interred in the Panthéon since Joséphine Baker in 2021 (although her remains are still in Monaco).

President Emmanuel Macron will lead the ceremony, which will also see 23 of Mr Manouchian’s Resistance member comrades who were executed alongside him ‘symbolically’ represented in the chamber for their actions during World War Two.

Although not as well known as some of the other Resistance members such as Jean Moulin, Manouchian was a dedicated guerilla fighter in Paris throughout the war, and has been memorialised in songs and poems.

Survivor of the Armenian genocide

Manouchian was born in 1906 to Armenian parents, in what was then the Ottoman Empire. His parents died in the Armenian genocide, after which he was orphaned in Lebanon.

As this was a French protectorate at the time, Manouchian was able to eventually move to Paris, where he worked both as a model for sculptors and as a factory worker in a Citroën plant.

He became a member of his local trade union, and then a member of the French Communist Party in the 1930s – this means he will be the first ‘official’ Communist to be memorialised in the Panthéon.

Brave Resistance member

As a foreigner, Manouchian could not join the army and was evacuated from the Paris area in 1939, settling in Normandy, but quickly after the occupation he joined the local Resistance movement.

He was arrested in a round-up of ‘anti-communist’ members of society by the German soldiers, but through his wife Mélinée secured a release, and he immediately returned to Resistance activities.

Originally, led the Armenian section of the underground Resistance.

France had seen a large influx of Armenians after the genocide, and Manouchian was friends with the Aznavour family – which included the future singer Charles Aznavour – who were part of his group.

Read more: Aznavour to have hommage national, Macron confirms

He later became a gunman and saboteur attached to the FTP (Francs-tireurs et partisans), the Resistance movement led by the Communist Party, carrying out activities in Paris.

His group was known for many high-profile sabotages and assassinations, but eventually an informer gave away information about the group, leading to Manouchian’s arrest in 1943.

Manouchian and 23 others under his command – those who will also be symbolically memorialised in the Panthéon – were subject to months of torture, before being assassinated on February 21, 1944, exactly 80 years before tomorrow’s ceremony.

‘I forgive everyone’

Manouchian missed the beginning of French liberation by just a few months, but his efforts have been remembered, particularly by those from foreign backgrounds.

The positive perception of the Armenian diaspora by the French in the latter half of the 20th century was in part due to Manouchian’s actions during the Resistance, some historians have argued.

He is also well known for his poignant last letter to his wife written just before his execution.

A particular section reads:

“I wish for happiness for all those who will survive and taste the sweetness of the freedom and peace of tomorrow… At the moment of death, I proclaim that I have no hatred for the German people, or for anyone at all… 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.”

He also implored his wife to remarry and have a child, as it was his 'greatest regret' that he was unable to be a father to her children. She remained unmarried for the rest of her life, however.

The letter inspired a poem by Louis Aragon (Strophes pour se souvenir) alongside a song by French singer Léo Ferré (L’affiche Rouge) with both use excerpts of the letter.

A film released about Manouchian and his group sparked a fierce historical debate over the traitor who handed him over to the German soldiers, but later analysis of police records confirmed it was not a politician but a member of the group who was captured and tortured.

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