The Manouchian Group 1944

The German Military Tribunal has Rendered its Verdict Against Manouchian and his Accomplices

By Pierre Malo

Source: Le Matin, Paris, February 22, 1944;
Translated; for by Mitch Abidor.

Twenty-three of the twenty-four accused are sentenced to death

At the conclusion of the questioning a German police inspector, called to the stand by the presiding judge, described the organization of the MOI in a few words:

“The MOI, which had a newspaper, La Presse Nouvelle, wasn’t very well known until 1939,” he declared. “But from that date, and especially after the armistice, based on the decisions taken at the Sixth International Congress held in Moscow in 1938 – a congress attended by a representative of the MOI in order to learn the modern methods of sabotage – that organization quickly demonstrated its true goals. Everyone remembers the first attack chalked up to its account, that committed in August 1941 at the Barbès-Rochecouart metro station. [1]

“This illegal apparatus, which exists alongside the Communist Party, which it works with closely, established groups on Moscow’s orders that were originally made up only of foreigners. The French FTP was created later. The Jewish section stood out for its particularly frightful activity. Since the arrests of October and November 1943 attacks have become increasingly rare in the Paris region. It should be noted that of the 108 terrorists arrested from November 16 – November 18, 1943, 58 were Jews of various nationalities, and 29 foreigners.

The arm depots

“Most of the arm depots established by the MOI before the war have been discovered. The explosives, the machineguns, the grenades, the daggers which the terrorists now use are of English origin and parachuted in. The materiel for tearing up tracks is stolen from train stations or fabricated.

“Each member has a cover name and a registration number. The numbers below 10,000 are attributed to the FTP, and those above 10,000 to the MOI. Men with such registration numbers are men of whom the leaders are confident.

“It must be added that in this secret army under the orders of Algiers, promotions periodically occur: Alfonso was going to be named lieutenant. And it should also be pointed out that the terrorists have adopted the methods of the GPU: it has often been remarked that the victims pointed out to the executors were killed with a pistol shot in the neck.”

Missak Manouchian confirmed, not without satisfaction, the declarations of the German inspector.

“It’s true that there were proposals under consideration. This was truly a secret army of ‘Liberation’ and everyone in it was considered a soldier.”

The prosecutor then rose to make his summation. After having sumarized all that the testimony revealed, he demanded the application against the 23 defendants of the sole punishment called for by international law against irregulars: the death penalty. He also asked that the defendant Migatulski, convicted of armed attacks but whose enlistment in a terrorist detachment wasn’t proved, be sent before a French judge.

The lawyers took their turns taking the floor. They declared that they are at the disposal of the guiltiest of the accused in order to carry out the formalities for an appeal for pardon, if such is their desire. For the others, Cloarec, Luccarini, Della Negras, Gra, Martyniek, Usseglio, Manouchian, Grzy. [sic- sentence and names truncated in the original- Tr.] And the presiding judge, one last time, gave the floor to the accused who, on a whole, did nothing but repeat the arguments they used in their defense during the trial. But no one expected to hear Manouchian, the leader, affirm that he “had no hatred for the German people.” [2]

Three attitudes

WITSCHITZ – “I was a draft dodger, young, a hothead...I was promised a rank in the army after the war.”
ROUXEL – “I'm eighteen years old, I was dragged into this. I thought it was my duty.”
RAJMAN – “I ask that the tribunal consider me a prisoner of war.”

After an intervention by the prosecutor, who specified that given the seriousness of the acts he committed that Rouxel, despite his youth, could not escape a formal law, the president closed the trial in order to deliberate with his two assessors, but not before asking this question:

“Does any one of you have a declaration to make?”

Only Missak Manouchian, the leader, rose:

“I request that the tribunal not forget that I never lived illegally – I didn’t have a false identity card – and that I worked in Germany.”

A shiver of surprise, and doubtless of disgust, swept through the spectators.

The verdict

After a half-hour of deliberations the German military tribunal rendered its verdict.

Twenty-three of the twenty-four accused were sentenced to death. Migatulski was sent before French justice to answer for an armed attack. The accused greeted the sentence with the same indifference they demonstrated over the course of the trial. Barely a shadow darkened their eyes.

The hearing wasn’t over, though. According to German procedure the tribunal must inform the condemned of the reasons for the judgment and determine the share of responsibility of all involved. But the presiding judge, before addressing each individual case, insisted on speaking of the moral and political scope of the trial.

“It must be pointed out,” he said as he ended his speech, “that the only thing that counts in determining guilt is the will that impelled a man to commit an act. It’s of no importance if an attack failed due to fortuitous circumstance. This juridical idea has universal value. The terrorists only accept reliable men in their ranks who, if they don’t know the name of their chief and the mechanisms of the organization, know that they are not alone and that and that the operations they participate in are part of a well-thought out plan. The accused could not be ignorant of these facts. They received payment. They had pseudonyms and registration numbers. Thus, they had proved themselves. It’s impossible to distinguish between great and small terrorists. Only a severe verdict is capable of preventing other men from taking the same road. This is in the interests of Germany, of France, and of civilization.”

The reasons for the judgment

After having spoken these few words, the presiding judge examined the charges against the defendants as well as the reasons behind the guilty verdict. He added that the tribunal regretted having been obliged to condemn Usseglio and especially Martyniek, who made a good impression on them. But the law is strict: any action by an irregular is punishable by death. Extenuating circumstances are not admissible.

The judgment is not subject to appeal. But it will only be definitive when it has been confirmed by the Militaerbefelshaber in France.

The defendants have the right to discuss the sentence with their defenders and to present their request for pardon through them.

As soon as the presiding judge closed the hearing the condemned hastened to their lawyers.

The final word

I saw the condemned leave in rows, two by two. I approached Rouxel. He was chained to Witschitz. The same handcuffs united two very different men in the same terrible fate: a French citizen of Polish origin who, lacking in grandeur, with the obstinate brow and the fleeting gaze we saw on him at the hearings, coldly executed the victims pointed out to him; and the Frenchman of France, a Parisian, who wasn’t even 18 when, dragged in by bad company and misled by unspeakable teachers, he was forced several times to carry out lookout duty and to protect his comrade’s flight. Two very different men...The same handcuffs!

Don’t I have before me the frightful symbol of our worst errors? Isn’t Rouxel Witschitz’s victim? Did France, so generous and so welcoming, grant asylum to the one in order to destroy the other?

I approached him again. He lowered his head and his lips were moving. He abruptly turned to me and I heard him whispering to himself: “If only I'd known!”

Yes, I saw Rouxel leave. It was cold. I was weary.

Mister Militaerbefelshaber in France, he is so young ...

1. Tthe first killing of a German soldier by the Resistance was carried put at that metro station by a Communist Resistance group led by Colonel Fabien, but not the MOI. – Tr.

2. He would repeat this affirmation in his final letter to his wife, Melinée. – Tr.