Spread the love

The Manouchian couple enters the Pantheon

Photo: Stéphane de Sakutin Agence France-Presse Soldiers of the French army carried the coffin of Missak Manouchian on Tuesday on Mont Valérien, west of Paris, on the eve of the veteran's pantheonization.

“There were twenty-three of them when the guns flourished

Twenty-three who gave their hearts before time

Twenty-three strangers and our brothers nevertheless […]

Twenty-three who shouted France as they fell. »

These 23 resistance fighters immortalized in 1961 in L’Affiche rougeby Léo Ferré, to the words of Aragon, were foreign fighters. Grouped from 1942 by the French Communist Party in the armed groups of the Francs-tireurs et partisans – immigrant workforce (FTP-MOI), they were shot on February 21, 1944 by the Nazi occupiers at the Mont-fort. Valerian. Eighty years later to the day, two of them, Missak and Mélinée Manouchian, will enter the Pantheon on Wednesday. These two Armenians who fought for France will join the French Jean Moulin, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Germaine Tillon, Jean Zay and Pierre Brossolette.

This ceremony is intended to be a tribute to republican universalism and to those “preferably French” (according to the Aragon formula) who fell for France, declared Emmanuel Macron on the occasion of 'an interview granted to the communist daily L'Humanité. Four months before the European elections, the president could not help but take a dig at the National Rally by asserting that “the far-right forces would be inspired not to be present”.

While she attended the ceremony honoring the French victims of Hamas (but not the one in honor of Robert Badinter), its leader, Marine Le Pen, denounced the “political instrumentalization” of a “moment of 'unity of the nation'. “The president does not have to sort out who, according to him, are the good or bad elected representatives of the French Republic,” added his heir apparent, Jordan Bardella, judging his party “perfectly irreproachable, which is perhaps not not be the case for all political movements in history.”

Bardella thus wanted to emphasize that, although thousands of communist militants certainly gave their lives in the Resistance, the PCF scrupulously respected, throughout the beginning of the war, the German-Soviet non-aggression pact. signed by Hitler and Stalin. From May 10, 1940 to the German attack on the USSR on June 21, 1941, the communists abandoned any national defense policy and even negotiated with the occupier the reappearance of Humanity.

A real historical debate

Beyond these political skirmishes, the entry of the Manouchian couple into the Pantheon nonetheless provoked a real debate among historians. On November 24, a column in the Monde signed in particular by the Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano, the philosopher Edgar Morin, the filmmaker Costa-Gavras and the actress Anouk Grinberg urged Emmanuel Macron to bring “all his comrades” into the Pantheon, with Missak Manouchian, so as not to “hurt the internationalism that animated them”.

For many historians, such as Annette Wieviorka (Anatomy of the Red Poster, Seuil) and Stéphane Courtois (The Black Book of Communism, Robert Laffont), this “pantheonization” of the only two resistance fighters retained by communist historiography is in fact “historical nonsense.” The expression comes from the historian Sylvain Boulouque, specialist in communist and anarchist movements, who criticized last June at  late.fr the choice of Emmanuel Macron to accredit a “legend […] constructed a posteriori by his party, his widow and interest groups seeking to favor one figure of this Resistance rather than another “.

Missak Manouchian, whose heroic character is beyond doubt, only led the FTP-MOI for three months. His main operation consisted of executing SS Colonel Julius Ritter, in charge of sending young French people to work camps. In short, Missak Manouchian would have been neither more nor less courageous than the other 22 members of his group.

This is why Annette Wieviorka estimated in Le Monde that “talking about the “Manouchian group” corresponds to nothing. He did not form a group: he was part of a global organization, where he exercised responsibilities.” The expression “Manouchian network” is moreover late, specifies the one who also refuses to settle for the compromise which will consist of dedicating to the group a simple plaque recalling the names of the other fighters.

Erasing the role of the Jews

More fundamentally, these historians believe that after the war, the PCF favored the name of the Armenian Manouchian to erase that of the Jews. Because if the FTP-MOI were Armenian, Romanian, Polish, Italian, Czech, Spanish and French, they were mainly Jewish. Stéphane Courtois estimates that the latter represented 62% of Parisian fighters (including 16 women).

This is even more true for the 10 resistance fighters targeted by the famous Red Poster put up in 15,000 copies by the German occupiers in February 1944 in the towns and villages of France. Seven of them were Jews, and the campaign denounced not primarily these foreigners who will be celebrated on Wednesday, but an “army of crime” essentially “in the service of Judaism”. For Annette Wieviorka, “the very purpose of the poster was anti-Semitic”, and not xenophobic.

However, the word “Jew” does not appear even once in Aragon's poem (Stanzas to remember) written in 1955 and inspired by the poignant letter Missak Manouchian sent to his wife before dying.

For Stéphane Courtois, this is no coincidence. The “little father of peoples” had just died, but the USSR was emerging from a vast anti-Semitic campaign launched by Stalin. It was marked by numerous executions and the famous “White Coat Plot”, which led to mass deportations of Jews in Siberia. A little earlier, also in Prague, the Slansky trial had convicted Arthur London, author of The Confession, for “Zionist conspiracy”.

According to the historian, who spoke in L’Express, Manouchian then “became a screen figure who facilitated the concealment of the participation and specific commitment of Jews in the ranks of the communist armed struggle.” For Courtois, the choice of Manouchian represents nothing more or less than a “casting error”, the latter being more of an intellectual than a military leader.

“A Fallacious Memory” ?

For several years, we have also known that the PCF has greatly exaggerated its contribution, nonetheless real, to the resistance by proclaiming itself “the party of 100,000 shot”. Over time, the figure rose to 75,000. In 2015, a group of academics recorded only 4,500 executed throughout France, around half of whom were believed to have been communists.

Many people believe that, at the time of entry into the Pantheon, these debates should not overshadow these heroes who have not deserved the nation and who have become a symbol of national unity. The historian Denis Peschanski criticizes in Libération “a false controversy” since “pantheonization always starts from a symbol”. Evoking the distinction between memory and history, the editor-in-chief of the History pages of the magazine Le Point, François-Guillaume Lorrain, writes for his part that “this role of incarnation trumps historical considerations.” An opinion with regard to which Stéphane Courtois judged on the contrary that, “faced with a fallacious memory, historical truth cannot be negotiated.”

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116