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L'Affiche Rouge / The Red Poster

by afew Wed Feb 22nd, 2006 at 09:13:18 AM EST

In the European Breakfast thread this morning, Fran cites a French almanac, Hérodote, telling us that on today's date, 21 February, the Resistance fighters of the Affiche Rouge (Red Poster), were shot in 1944.

(click to enlarge-------->)

The captions read, at the top, "Liberators?" and below, "Liberation! By the Army of Crime". 23 fighters in all were condemned to death; ten of them feature on this poster. Below them are scenes of death and destruction caused by "terrorist attacks".

The twenty-three were members of the Manoukian Group, which was the action group of the FTP-MOI in Paris. The FTP-MOI were the Francs-Tireurs Partisans-Main d'Oeuvre Immigrée (Irregular Partisans-Immigrant Labour), a Resistance group of the French Communist Party. As the "Immigrant Labour" tag indicates, the FTP-MOI were mostly made up of foreign anti-Nazi fighters.

Promoted by Colman. Back from the frotn page for more visibility.

In South-West France (particularly Toulouse), there was a large Spanish Republican contingent. In Paris, most came from Eastern European countries, and many were Jewish. The FTP-MOI were highly motivated and daring, living clandestinely and carrying out attacks within the big cities, where the chances of arrest were higher than in the woods and mountains of the Maquis.

They were not necessarily given full credit for their courageous action by the Communist Party at the end of the war (let's say, there was electioneering to be done, and that required people with pronounceable names...)

Anyway, they didn't all make it to the end of the war. Manoukian's group was asked to step up pressure on the Germans in Paris in winter of '43-'44, which they did. The Germans got sufficiently annoyed to put resources into capturing them, which happened. They were rapidly tried, and executed by firing squad (with one exception), at Mont Valérien, near Paris, 62 years ago this afternoon.

The Affiche Rouge was put out as anti-Resistance propaganda, presenting the Manoukian Group as dirty, dark, dangerous foreign extremists with (of course) unpronounceable names. Here are the names of all twenty-three:

An "x" indicates those who are on the poster. The links go to a brief biographical note and the last letter written in the morning before the execution. If you only have time to look at one, look at group leader (worker, freedom fighter, poet) Missak Manoukian's.

The one exception mentioned above was the only woman among them, Olga Bancic. Please click the link to learn her story.

Years later, the poet Louis Aragon wrote this poem about the Red Poster, (paraphrasing Missak Manoukian's last letter to his wife) :

L'Affiche rouge

Vous n'avez réclamé la gloire ni les larmes
Ni l'orgue, ni la prière aux agonisants
Onze ans déjà, que cela passe vite onze ans
Vous vous étiez servi simplement de vos armes
La mort n'éblouit pas les yeux des partisans.

Vous aviez vos portraits sur les murs de nos villes
Noirs de barbe et de nuit, hirsutes, menaçants
L'affiche qui semblait une tache de sang
Parce qu'à prononcer vos noms sont difficiles
Y cherchait un effet de peur sur les passants.

Nul ne semblait vous voir Français de préférence
Les gens allaient sans yeux pour vous le jour durant
Mais à l'heure du couvre-feu des doigts errants
Avaient écrit sous vos photos " Morts pour la France "
Et les mornes matins en étaient différents.

Tout avait la couleur uniforme du givre
À la fin février pour vos derniers moments
Et c'est alors que l'un de vous dit calmement :
"Bonheur à tous, bonheur à ceux qui vont survivre
Je meurs sans haine en moi pour le peuple allemand."

"Adieu la peine et le plaisir. Adieu les roses
Adieu la vie. Adieu la lumière et le vent
Marie-toi, sois heureuse et pense à moi souvent
Toi qui vas demeurer dans la beauté des choses
Quand tout sera fini plus tard en Erevan."

"Un grand soleil d'hiver éclaire la colline
Que la nature est belle et que le coeur me fend
La justice viendra sur nos pas triomphants
Ma Mélinée, ô mon amour, mon orpheline
Et je te dis de vivre et d'avoir un enfant."

Ils étaient vingt et trois quand les fusils fleurirent
Vingt et trois qui donnaient le coeur avant le temps
Vingt et trois étrangers et nos frères pourtant
Vingt et trois amoureux de vivre à en mourir
Vingt et trois qui criaient "la France!" en s'abattant.

The Red Poster

You demanded neither glory nor tears
Nor organ music, nor last rites
Eleven years already, how quickly eleven years go by,
You made use simply of your weapons
Death does not dazzle the eyes of partisans.

You had your pictures on the walls of our cities
Black with beard and night, hirsute, threatening
The poster, that seemed like a bloodstain,
Using your names that are hard to pronounce,
Sought to sow fear in the passers-by.

No one seemed to see you French by choice
People went by all day without eyes for you,
But at curfew wandering fingers
Wrote under your photos "Fallen for France"
And it made the dismal mornings different.

Everything had the unvarying colour of frost
In late February for your last moments
And that's when one of you said calmly:
"Happiness to all, happiness to those who survive,
I die with no hate in me for the German people.

"Goodbye to pain, goodbye to pleasure. Farewell the roses,
Farewell life, the light and the wind.
Marry, be happy and think of me often
You who will remain in the beauty of things
When it's all over one day in Erevan.

"A broad winter sun lights up the hill
How nature is beautiful and how my heart breaks
Justice will come on our triumphant footsteps,
My Mélinée, o my love, my orphan girl,
And I tell you to live and to have a child."

There were twenty-three of them when the guns flowered
Twenty-three who gave their hearts before it was time,
Twenty-three foreigners and yet our brothers
Twenty-three in love with life to the point of losing it
Twenty-three who cried "France!" as they fell.

(English translation and errors mine)

Later still, Léo Ferré set Aragon's words to music, and this version of the Affiche Rouge is well-known in France, certainly to the '68 generation. Younger French people may have tired of hearing it... The arrangement with rather dramatic choirs may seem a bit overladen now, but Ferré's deep humanity and sense of fight still come through. You can listen to it here if you'd like to (mp3). It still gets me right here every time.

No moral, no lessons. Just to their memory.

Merci, afew.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Tue Feb 21st, 2006 at 03:52:20 PM EST
Great diary.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Feb 21st, 2006 at 05:03:20 PM EST
the memory of these magnificent group of individuals gives vreath today to those who fight

their dignity has something of the divine within it

it is a terrible irony that without the nazi propaganda of this poster they may have been forgotten entirely

still steel

by remembereringgiap on Tue Feb 21st, 2006 at 09:05:37 PM EST
It's true that the poster, of which I think 150,000 copies were printed, became the medium through which the Manoukian Group's memory was kept alive.

Nazi propaganda overturned. Which makes it all the better to remember.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Feb 22nd, 2006 at 01:27:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks afew

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Feb 22nd, 2006 at 09:12:05 AM EST

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