PARIS – Politicians, resistance veterans, Communist Party activists, Jewish leaders and residents of Paris’s 11th Arrondissement gathered on Sunday morning at a little city garden, not far from the Leon Blum square. The veterans were wearing their medals and berets, holding up flags.
They came to honor their friend, Marcel Rajman, executed by the Germans in February 1944, together with 22 other resistance members.
The little garden was named after Rajman several years ago, but on this gray winter morning his comrades came to unveil a statue; inspired by his image on the last day of his life.
“When we came here last year, at the annual commemoration ceremony, I felt that this place needed not only a name, but also a face, an image. I vowed, in the name of all of us, sons and daughters of the deportees, to bring the face of our friend, Marcel, back to his home neighborhood, to bring back his soul.
One of us, who wished to stay anonymous, made a donation, and here we are today, honoring not only Marcel Rajman, but all those who fought with him,’’ Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld told The Jerusalem Post.
Rajman was one of the foreigners who tied their fate with their new homeland; Armenians, Polish, Italians and Spanish who immigrated to France in the early 30s and joined the French resistance, when Paris was occupied by the German army.
There, foreigners formed up a group of their own which was named after its leader, Armenian poet Missak Manouchian. Most of them were young communists.
Marcel Rajman and his Polish Jewish friends initiated several audacious and spectacular attacks against the Germans.
They attempted to assassinate the German governor of Paris, but the attack failed. An attempt to kill another high ranking German officer, however, succeeded.
In mid-November 1943 the French police arrested 23 members of the communist labor movement network (FTP-MOI). The resistance members were tortured, then put on trial by a German military court. The Nazis turned the trial into a media circus, inviting French celebrities and others to watch it. At the end, a firing squad executed 22 members at Fort Mont Valerien.
The 23rd member, Olga Bancic, was later beheaded in Stuttgart.
Leon Felman, 90, one of the flag bearers, knew Marcel Rajman personally. “His family lived at the Rue des Immeubles Industriels, near Place de la Nation. They were poor Polish immigrants who made their living by knitting.
When Marcel’s father was arrested, Marcel, together with his younger brother, Simon, joined the resistance, but only Simon survived the war. I myself also joined the resistance. I was 17 and managed to flee the French gendarmerie when they rounded up our family. My mother told me to run, so I ran. There were many of us Jews who participated in the resistance, but people tend to forget that.”
Felman was decorated for his bravery with the highest French decoration; officer of the Legion d’Honneur.
Catherine Vieu-Charier, who represented Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo at the ceremony, told the Post that there was much symbolism to the inauguration of the status this year in particular, a month after the terrorist attacks in Paris.
“We are honoring Polish Jews, foreigners, who sacrificed themselves for France, against barbarism... The world expressed solidarity with us when human dignity and freedom were threatened here, when anti-Semitism came back to the forefront. This anti-Semitism, has never left French soil. The victims were not chosen haphazardly; journalists, police officers, Jews. All of them representing the diversity of France and its values.”
The mayor of the 11th Paris Arrondissement, Francois Vauglin, also linked Rajman’s story to recent events.
“The sacrifice of Marcel Rajman and his friends is particularly significant and strong in today’s context, with the massacres at Hyper Cacher and Charlie Hebdo and the terrible attack yesterday in Copenhagen. And also when we recall the words of hate pronounced at a theater in this very neighborhood not long ago [a reference to the show of French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, recently condemned for incitement]. We must remember that words and actions are interrelated. Words of hate will be followed by actions, and this is the lesson we must learn and the reality we must confront.”
Denis Chetboun, the sculptor who created the statue of Rajman, said that he considered the commission a sacred one.
“I started working on the statue last year at my new Tel Aviv studio. I made aliya at that very same time. I feel that my statue of Marcel Rajman in effect closes the circle. For his image to be eternalized in Israel specifically, might be Marcel Rajman’s greatest victory.”