France has often been a champion of the Armenian Cause. They recognized the Armenian Genocide in 2001, while the French Parliament also passed a bill criminalizing Genocide denial, with the vigorous efforts of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. However, there have been many Armenians who have championed the French Cause as well. Among the most famous of those Armenians is Missak Manoushian. After surviving the Armenian Genocide, he moved to France and continued his activism in the Armenian community and perhaps most importantly, as the most likely member of a resistance campaign aimed against the genocide of many people and the occupation of his adopted homeland.
Manoushian was an intellectual, a poet, and an ardent believer in the equality of man. Perhaps this is why he emerged as one of the leaders of the French resistance, fighting on the side of the French Communists. He came from the typical background of an Armenian living in Europe in the 1940s. He had survived the Genocide, as most of his family perished. He lived his early life as an orphan in Syria along with his brother, until he secured passage to France. He was the editor of two Armenian journals called “Tchank” (Effort) and “Mshakuyt” (Culture).
While many Armenians know of him, it is the French who know him best. Manoushian was responsible for the assassinations of many of the Nazi high command in France, as well as the saving of Jews that were at the brink of certain elimination. Under his command, 22 men and women of foreign heritage were a thorn in the side of the Nazis. So what did the Nazis do about this? In the process of capturing these individuals, the Nazis wanted to make a scapegoat of the foreign community of France and portray them as anti-French. This was done by putting the face of Manoushian’s crew on the now famous “Red Poster.”
The poster showed the assassins, and described the heritage of those involved in the resistance as immigrants. Soon after the photos were taken for the “Red Poster,” Manoushian was shot and decapitated, along with 22 others whom he had collaborated with. However, it produced the opposite effect. When the French people saw the immigrant community fighting for the freedom of France, it emboldened and consolidated the Resistance.
He was survived by his widow, Meline. He wrote to her saying:
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,
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
Manoushian was also portrayed in the 2009 film The Army of Crime, which was hailed by French and international critics as a masterful work. You can find it on Netflix Streaming.