An error set in stone. The Armenian resistance fighter Missak Manouchian, recently entered the Pantheon, was born in 1909, and not in 1906, as indicated by the stele of his tomb in the nave of the Pantheon. The latter was therefore executed by the Germans in February 1944 at the age of 34, and not 37.

A very recent discovery, in the light of a fortuitous crossing between the research work of the Manouchian family in Yerevan, and the exhibition in tribute to the resistance fighter, which takes place in the mysteries of the mausoleum in Paris.

It all starts in the Armenian capital. In May 2023, Katia Guiragossian, great-niece of Mélinée, Missak’s partner, discovered during a visit to the Yerevan Museum of Art and Literature around ten notebooks written in Armenian by the resistance fighter. Hearing the news, historian Denis Peschanski, who directs the exhibition “Living to Die” honoring Missak and Mélinée at the same time as recounting the role of the Francs-Tireurs and Partisans of the Main- of Immigrant Work (FTP-MOI) in the Second World War, a group to which Missak belonged, asked to obtain these notebooks.

Three of them arrived in Paris on February 22, the day before the opening of the exhibition. Denis Peschanski places them open under a window. “We had just discovered the existence of these notebooks,” confesses the commissioner to Le Figaro. So the work of translating these pages, written in French and Armenian, had not yet been done.” A few minutes later, the Manouchian family arrived at the Pantheon to preview the exhibition.

Upon their arrival, the descendants of Missak Manouchian explained to the commissioner that an oral tradition passed down through the generations states that the resistance fighter aged three years to be able to go to work in France. In 1924, when Missak left his orphanage in Beirut to join his brother Garabed in France, he was 15 years old. Too young to be able to work, the resistance fighter pushed back his date of birth by arriving in France to work on a construction site in the South, at Seyne-sur-Mer. “I had never heard of this story,” admits Denis Peschansky.

Also read “We finally recognize the place of foreigners in the Resistance”: at the Pantheon, the vibrant tribute to the Manouchian couple

This story quickly turns out to be true: Louisa and Hasmik, great-grandnieces of the Armenian resistance fighter, lean into the window and decipher, fascinated, the few lines written in the diary in Armenian. “I do not remember a moment of peace in my life,” wrote the young stateless person, who had just arrived in Paris, in a translation reported by Le Monde. “I have always been in a struggle with myself. I am 25 years old and I would like to understand where this turbulent life will end. I would like to give myself up but it seems that a stone has been placed on my heart. Material and moral concerns follow one another. Where will this turbulent life take me? »

The calculation is quickly done. The page is written in February 1935, and the young writer claims to be 25 years old. The author has therefore aged by 3 years. In the 1920s, such a practice was common among immigrants who came to France in order to be of legal age to work. “At that time,” explains Denis Peschanski, “France had a considerable shortage of manpower at the end of the First World War and was hiring like crazy.”

At the same time, the Armenian context is particular: twenty years after the Armenian genocide which decimated a million people, many archives and birth certificates were destroyed after the desecration of Christian churches, which kept the birth certificates of the subjects Ottoman Armenians. Missak Manouchian therefore heads to France, modifying this date of birth along the way. “This story is that of many immigrants who arrived in France in the 1920s,” points out the exhibition curator who remembers a “very touching moment, a moving discovery.” “The Manouchian family actively participated in lifting the veil on the gray areas of Missak’s life.” For the specialist, this discovery “also refers to the youth of the combatants during the Second World War. When Manouchian was executed, he was barely 34 years old!”

Should we therefore re-engrave the Pantheon stele? “This false date is of no importance,” says the expert. “This error sheds additional light on the era in which Manouchian lived. We still have a lot to discover about him,” continues Denis Peschanski, who insists on the evolving nature of historical science. It was by chance that he learned of the two requests for French naturalization that the communist resistance fighter had made, during a discussion with an archivist just a few months earlier. “It’s all part of his legend,” smiles the commissioner. Pantheonizing someone each time offers the possibility of deepening historical research.”