Who was Missak Manouchian and why is he important to foreigners in France?

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Who was Missak Manouchian and why is he important to foreigners in France?
A fresco by French street artist Christian Guemy (aka C215) showing Missak Manouchian at Fresnes prison, outside Paris. Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP

France's highest posthumous honour will on Wednesday be bestowed upon the Armenian Missak Manouchian - a decision which has helped to shine a light on the many foreigners who formed part of the French Resistance during World War II.


On Wednesday, February 21st Missak Manouchian will be panthéoniser - inducted into the Panthéon in Paris - France's highest posthumous honour, reserved for those who have played a vital role in the country's history.

READ ALSO 5 things to know about France's Panthéon

The decision to include him was taken by president Emmanuel Macron in the summer of 2023. Manouchian will be inducted alongside his wife Melinée, who survived the war and died in 1989.

Who was Manouchian?

Missak Manouchian was born in 1906 in modern day Armenia, at that time part of the Ottoman Empire.


At just nine years old, he and his family fled the Armenian genocide, before Missak eventually arrived France as a stateless refugee in 1925. 

He worked as a joiner and in the Citroën car factory and became involved in politics, joining the Communist Party in 1934.


After the war broke out he led a small group of foreign Resistance fighters against the Nazi occupation, carrying out attacks on German forces and acts of sabotage in Nazi-occupied France in 1943.

In 1944 the group was put out of action when 23 of its members were rounded up and sentenced to death by a German military court. Manouchian was shot by the Nazis on February 21st, 1944 - which is why February 21st was chosen as the date to induct him into the panthéon.

After the executions, the Vichy government put out the notorious 'affiche rouge' (red poster) in which it tried to justify the executions by labelling the resistance fighters as 'foreigners, communists and Jews'.


Why is this honour important?

There are already several resistance fighters in the Panthéon - Jean Moulin, Germaine Tillion and Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz.

However, Manouchian will become the first foreign resistance fighter, and the first Communist resistance fighter.

Communists formed the backbone of the early resistance, but in the immediate post-war period many tried to minimise their contribution for political reasons.

Likewise resistance memories in France have centred on French fighters, while resistance was an international affair - with its early members including a significant number of people such as Manouchian who were immigrants or refugees or both. 

Macron said Manouchian "embodies the universal values" of France and "carries a part of our greatness".

The concept of universal French values was echoed by the current French Communist party leader Fabien Roussel, who described Manouchian as someone who "symbolises a certain idea of France: a political nation, made up of citizens of all origins, united by universal values."


Leader of the centrist MoDem, François Bayrou, added that the move "means that the greater good, which we defended with the Resistance, was not just that of France and the French."


Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo added: "This is just and long-awaited recognition by the Republic of the role of foreigners who, at the cost of their lives, fought for the liberation of our country and our freedom. They are the face of France."


Although Manouchian will become the first foreign resistance fighter, he is far from the first foreigner to be panthéoniser.

Induction to the Panthéon is restricted to French citizens, but this includes people who were born elsewhere and naturalised French.

Also in the Panthéon are the Polish-born scientist Marie Curie and the Franco-American dancer and civil rights activist Josephine Baker.

The Panthéon is open to visitors - the building is beautiful and the permanent exhibition gives a lot of details about the many fascinating characters who are buried there. Entry is free for children and €11.50 for adults. Book here.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

Sandra Polaski 2024/02/17 09:30
Thank you for this informative reporting.

See Also