The Manouchian Group 1944

At the Trial of the Terrorists the Team of Derailers Admits to Fourteen Attacks

By Pierre Malo

Source: Le Matin, Paris, February 21, 1944;
Translated: for by Mitch Abidor.

Translator’s note: The names have been left as they were printed with their incorrect spellings.

Almost all the assassins demonstrate a bestial recklessness
Of the twenty-four accused, nineteen are foreigners and three naturalized

Twenty-four defendants, nineteen foreigners! And even then, should we count as men like Missak Manouchian, of Turkish origin, Robert Witchitz, of Polish origin, and Della Negro, of Italian origin as French?

It’s our duty to say it: most of the defendants – of those we saw before us for four days – didn’t for a single second think of accounting for their acts as a result of exacerbated patriotism.

If some – the Jews – openly declared that they killed from racial hatred and desire for revenge, others found reasons for their enlisting in the secret army of a puerility that is beyond understanding. Blind instruments of a monstrous force, they didn’t hesitate to execute the orders of leaders they didn’t know and who, to make matters worse, avoided paying for them with their own persons.

The bait of a false identity card, a few bread tickets, and propaganda aimed at naturally degraded intelligences, and there they were, caught up in the horrific gears.

I would have liked to see some kind of devouring flame in their eyes. But there’s nothing in their eyes...emptiness! A lack of understanding, a bestial lack of awareness that makes you dizzy and which, from simple respect for humanity, I'll try to forget.

But let’s return to the testimony. Here we are before the members of a detachment specializing in attacks on the railways. The indictment also accuses them of four dynamite and pistol attacks against offices occupied by the German army or against detachments of soldiers, of fourteen derailings on the eastern lines.

Few victims but, on the other hand, many trains with merchandise derailed. In the defendant’s box Fingerzweig. Waibrot, Poczor, Elek, Glasz, Goldberg, Schapira, Martyniek, Usseglio.

The “keeper” of the explosives

Poczor was, if I can use the word, the “keeper” of the explosives and materiel. A bony face, his mouth deformed by a tic, he explains, in a hard to hear and sugary voice, how he delivered to his “comrades” the dynamite charges and the monkey wrenches needed to unbolt the rails.

“How many time did you provide materiel?”
“Three or four times.”

Even though he was paid in bread tickets, due to lack of money, and lived illegally, Glasz denies having participated in the attacks and retracts his previous declarations. He was, incidentally, the only defendant to adopt this attitude. The others confess without any difficulty.

Waisbort, who looks like he left a correctional facility yesterday and Elek as if he was freshly graduated form a Parisian high school, carried out six operations; Goldberg four; Schapira two; Usseglio; and Martyniek one. But almost all of them affirm that their role was limited to lookout duty. It’s their anonymous accomplices, who, as is always the case, they only know under the first name of, who did most of the “work.”

“How did you proceed?”
“We unbolted fifteen sleepers. That’s what we usually did.”

Did you consider the fact that the mechanic and the conductor – Frenchmen – could have been killed?

“We were told that the mechanic was warned (sic).”

A hint of honesty

The presiding judge, who is trying to assign responsibility and to penetrate the psychological motives obeyed by the accused, interrogated Martyniek and Usseglio at length. I have to say that the declarations of the Pole Martyniek – whose father was killed in the war against the Bolsheviks – seemed to have an air of honesty to which the spectators were not accustomed.

“I wanted to go to England to join the Polish Legion. I considered myself to be mobilized. I was told that an English plane was going to come and take me.”

This was how he one night found himself with his “comrades” along a train track. We can guess what followed. Martyniek is the only one who never had a false identity card in his possession.

As for Usseglio, who wept, he participated in only one attack and was arrested the next day:

“Why did you do it?”
“I don’t know... I didn’t understand.”

Yes, why did they do this?

Fingerzweig: “I couldn’t earn a living; I had no other way out.”

Waisbrot: “It’s normal for a Jew to fight the Germans.”

Elek: “It was one of my teachers who advised me to enter a secret organization.”

What a worthy teacher!

“And you never thought that Frenchmen might have been the victims of your attacks?”
“I told myself that in times of war there are always civilian victims.”

One will agree that such an opinion is lacking in decency when it is professed in France by a Polish citizen.

And it’s still and always the same old story: A comrade, “Alphonse,” obtains for you a false identity card. A short time later he introduces you to Michel who, for his part, puts you in contact with Octave... The trap closes...And one night...

A man lacking in curiosity

Why is it that there’s always a comedic interlude in the most horrible dramas? Far from me the idea of ridiculing a man who’s defending his head. But how can one not smile before the extravagant explanations given by Manoukian? (Not to be confused with the leader, Manouchian.)

A former officer in the Armenian army, this son of Asia Minor, who along with Gilda Bancic belongs to the fourth detachment, whose crimes the tribunal will judge, exercised the honorable profession of rug repairer before joining the organization. I'd wager that he sold some from time to time.

He “joined up,” he asserts, in protest against the mandatory census of Armenians, and he was told that on the day he would receive an illustrated card showing a dog or a cat he could consider himself a member of the “protest organization.” He received a dog.

You have to see with what gestures of a prestidigitator or three card monte player he recounts his amazing adventure.

“Me explain. Me protest. Me know. Grenade no toy. Me not know. Me protest.”

And nevertheless here is a man who participated in two attacks. He was given orders to throw a grenade into a truck transporting German soldiers. He tossed the grenade, he said, in such a way that it exploded a few seconds after the truck passed. Another time he was placed right in the middle of the Boulevard Saint-Michel with a grenade in his hand and was told to wait. He waited ...

“If me refuse them kill me.”

Let us add that these two attacks failed, which should surprise no one. But fate was particularly cruel to Manoukian. The only victim of the action was Manoukian himself. He was struck with a bullet coming from who knows where and the doctor who extracted it demanded, above the traditional 2300 francs paid out by his accomplices, a supplement of 300o francs, which Manoukian had to pay out of his own pocket.

The end of the questioning

The presiding judge then questioned Golda Bancic, the woman who gave Manoukian a grenade on two occasions. The latter, who identified her during the investigation, partially retracted his preceding declarations.

But Golda Bancic admitted having transported “papers” whose content, she said, she knew nothing of. And what is more, she was paid four monthly wages of 2300 francs.

It was then the turn of Kubacki and Migatulski, accused of having attacked a farmer in the Seine-et-Oise.

Attacked? Kubacki doesn’t like this word.

“We asked him for something to eat and...25,000 francs!”
“But you were armed.”
“Yes, but they were fake pistols.”

Kubacki belongs to the terrorist organization, but a doubt – which he will doubtless benefit by – hangs over Migatulski’s role.

The questioning ended with Grzywacz, who admitted having committed two attacks on the authorities.