Louise Aslanian disappeared one day in January 1945. Today, more than 70 years later, no one knows where her grave is. Is it somewhere in northern Germany, near the Nazi concentration camp she was transferred to for the last time? Or maybe somewhere in France?
A Budding Revolutionary
Louise Aslanian (maiden name Grigorian) was born in Tabriz, Iran in 1906 and received her primary education at the Aramian school. After graduating, she moved to Tbilisi and continued her education at the Russian Gymnasium of Tbilisi. Starting from her school years, Lousie loved doing translations from French and Russian and writing poetry. She also played the piano and wanted to become a musician.
In 1923, after graduating from the Gymnasium, Louise returned to Tabriz and married lawyer Arpiar Aslanian, a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, who had moved to Tabriz after the October Revolution to escape the Bolsheviks. Right after their marriage, Arpiar and Louise moved to France so that she could continue her education. Louise’s mother, Mania and sister, Arshaluys joined them. Upon reaching France, the Aslanians faced financial difficulties and Louise had to give up her dream of becoming a musician. However, she attended literature classes at the Sorbonne and soon started to write articles for several Armenian newspapers and publications, signing under the pseudonym Lass.
In the mid-1920s, Lass began publishing her short stories in French-Armenian and Iranian-Armenian magazines. As her writing career progressed, she published two books, “Khan,” in 1928 and a collection of short stories, “Outside the Line” in 1935.
Lass published her first novel “On the Road of Doubt” in 1936. It was originally published as separate articles in the US-Armenian ”Hairenik” monthly magazine.
The novel supported the idea of the repatriation of Armenians to the Soviet Union and emphasized its importance for the nation. The narrative of the book develops in the Middle East, where Lass was born and raised and ends up in Soviet Armenia. In his book about French Armenian literature, French-Armenian poet and literary critic Krikor Beledian notes that Lass’s novel is “the most systematic or complete novel of its generation and probably the most ambitious.”
During that period, Lass was a great admirer of communist ideology and believed that the Soviet Union was the only hope for Armenians. In 1937, she became a member of the French Communist party and started to write articles for French-Armenian newspapers “Zangou” and “Nor Kyank.” At that time, the editor of both newspapers was Missak Manouchian, a French-Armenian poet, genocide survivor from Western Armenia who would in a couple of years go on to become a hero of the French Resistance. Besides her writing career, Lass was also actively engaged in the social and cultural life of the Armenian community in Paris. In 1937, she was appointed as the Chair of the Committee of Assistance to Armenia (HOK). She also founded the Armenian Women’s Union in France and was a member of the Armenian Writers Union in France.
Lass: French Resistance Fighter
In 1940, the Nazis occupied France. Hundreds and thousands of people who were against the Nazi regime formed resistance cells and started to fight against the German army. They utilized guerilla warfare techniques, published underground newspapers and gathered intelligence. The Armenians in France were among the active resistance fighters during the Nazi occupation. Missak Manouchian was the leader of the group Francs-tireurs et partisans – main-d’oeuvre immigrée or FTP-MOI, a resistance subgroup of the French Communist Party, that consisted of immigrants and Jews. Lass and Arpiar, along with many other Armenians, were active members of Manouchian’s group.
According to Lass’s sister Arshaluys, Arpiar and Lass got involved in the resistance operations in August 1941, when Soviet Armenia urged Armenian intellectuals from around the world to join the anti-fascist fight and preserve world heritage from destruction.
In his memoirs, a French-Armenian resistance fighter and a member of the Manouchian group Henri Karayan recalled that Lass was a recruiter for FTP-MOI and was called Madeleine in resistance operations.
In June 1941, Lass started to write a diary. She described events happening in France, expressed her anger towards the Nazis, her admiration and hope for the Soviet Union. She kept writing until 1942 and described the situation and Nazi operations in France. The ten-page diary is among the few belongings of Lass that have been saved.
Excerpt From Lass’s diary
June 22, 1941
Early in the morning, on a small and narrow street, an old person loudly announces to everyone, “The Soviet Union has started a war with Germany”…The old person is excited, “The attacker is Germany.”
I am on Faubourg-du-Temple, the news is spreading mouth to mouth, from one sidewalk to another, from one window to another…There is satisfaction and smiles on everyone’s faces. “The Soviet Union will give a lesson to H. [Hitler], it will free our country from slavery, the Red Army is powerful and this time H. will lose and the time of our people’s freedom is close.”
A conversation between two people at noon in a cafe, “The door of hope has been opened for everyone.”
Around theatres, in families, in the store in front of us…Turn on the Soviet radio, listen to the truth.
Apart from their activities in the resistance, Lass and Arpiar also taught mathematics to young Charles Aznavour whose family was actively supporting the French resistance. Aznavour’s family gave shelter to the Manouchians, supported Jews and helped the resistance operations.
As noted in Lass’s camp documents, on July 26, 1944, she and Arpiar were arrested from the rue d`Aix 8, Paris. Soon after their arrest, they were separated: Lass was taken to Ravensbrück camp, and Arpiar was transferred to Dora-Mittelbau camp. According to the concentration camp entry lists of the Arolsen Archives on Nazi Persecution, on September 5, 1944, Lass was taken to Buchenwald concentration camp. Her prisoner number at Buchenwald was 4460.
During the arrest, manuscripts of Lass’s future novels “The History of Resistance” and “The Fall of Paris” were destroyed by the Nazis.
On October 9, 1944, Lass was transferred to HASAG camp in Leipzig, a subcamp to Buchenwald where she stayed for about three months. Her prisoner card mentions that on January 27, 1945, she was transferred back to Ravensbrück camp. The information chain about Lass’s presence in the concentration camps ends here. However, several sources mention that she died three days later, on January 30, but there is no evidence to prove that. Till today, no one knows in what circumstances Lass died…
According to “La Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Déportation,” Arpiar died on February 15, 1945. It is believed that he was killed in the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp.
In August 1945, Lass’s friend in the concentration camp, Elizabeth Ricol, widely known as Lise London, a French communist politician wrote a letter to Lass’s sister, Arshaluys, where she provides some information about Lass’s life in the camps. She mentions in the letter that the camp Lass was in was relatively less strict and she would work there for eight hours instead of 12. She also wrote that Lass was sick and was taken to hospital several times.
While in the concentration camp, Lass never stopped writing. Lise told Arshaluys that Lass wrote poems while in hospital as she could rest a little bit. The two poems Lass wrote, “At the Factory,” (Gortsaranum), dated December 31, 1944 and “Mala” (unfinished) were saved thanks to Lise London.
“Mala” is a poem describing the horrific life of a young girl in a concentration camp. There are two versions about the title of the poem: the first one suggests that it is the abbreviation of the names of her family members – Manya, Arshaluys, Louise, and Arpiar, while the second one, suggested by Krikor Beledian explains that Mala is a Belgian Jew of Polish origin.
In 1946, Arshag Chobanian, an Armenian writer and journalist originally from Western Armenia, published “Mala” and “At the Factory” in the French-Armenian literary magazine “Anahit.” A year later, Tseroon Asaturian, the editor of the French-Armenian magazine “Hay Kin,” dedicated an entire issue to Lass and her life.
In the 1970s, Lass’s sister Arshaluys collected her archive and sent it to Soviet Armenia. Today, Lass’s teenage diary, the 10-page war diary, some of her letters, photographs as well as the manuscript of her novel “On the Road of Doubt” are kept at the Yeghishe Charents Museum of Literature in Arts.
Special thanks to the staff of the Yeghishe Charents Museum of Literature and Art.
Photographs were taken from Louise Aslanian’s/Lass archive kept at the Yeghishe Charents Museum of Literature and Art.
Lass’s letter to Arpiar
December 25, 1935
So, Arpiar jan, the days are sliding by, one after another…And are we always far, always far from each other. Sometimes it seems to me that we are moving further apart from one another. I am afraid of that thought, I am working to prove that it is not so, however, it appears as though there are many facts…
But still we do not see each other for days and days. We feel each other’s existence, precious and irreplaceable presence, but who needs that when we do not enjoy it? Maybe the word enjoy is not appropriate here, it’s very prosaic. But love has its enjoyment, its beauty, its pleasure, simple and inexplicable pleasure that perhaps is called being in love.
Away from each other in daytime, separated from each other at night while years pass and our youth passes. These are not complaints, a simple feeling that is dangerous when it becomes a habit. And I love missing you and that yearning tortures me….
How deep is a person’s soul…Until “daily life” drowns him and appears as something else to the eyes.
Something, which is no longer you, and you are drawn, your being is aged and your mind often does not even pay attention to you. It (your mind) dictates compulsory things which you perform, but which are not connected to you.
When you are thus lost from yourself, you appear before the world and people and also to the one you love, in another image. This is what drives you away from your loved one and she from you. Call it the image of “daily life” or another name. Whatever it is, it’s the enemy.
This is the only surviving letter from Louise to her husband in the archives of the Yeghishe Charents Museum of Literature and Arts.
1- Louise’s words were taken from Diran Voskeritchian’s book “Mémoires d’un franc tireur arménien” https://archives.webaram.com/old/AA-VOSKER/index.html
2- Krikor Beledian, “Fifty years of Armenian literature in France,” 2001, The Press California State University
3- Zangou was a French-Armenian pro-Soviet Union monthly magazine published in Paris, France from 1936-1939
4- Nor Kyank was a French-Armenian weekly newspaper published in Paris, France from 1936-1938.
5- A movement in France against the Nazi regime during WWII
6- Committee of Assistance to Armenia, HOK
7- FTO-MOI was a subgroup of FTP that which was an armed resistance organization led by the French Communist Party during World War II
8- An interview with Henri Karayan, https://www.humanite.fr/node/300658
9- An interview with Charles Aznavour about Missak Manouchian, https://www.humanite.fr/charles-aznavour-missak-et-melinee-manouchian-etaient-des-amis-intimes
10- The Arolsen Archives-International Center on Nazi Persecution contains over 50 million documents about the life and fate of millions of victims of Nazi persecutions
11- Arpiar’s name is on the list http://www.bddm.org/liv/details.php?id=I.264.
12- Ricol’s letter is currently kept at Yeghishe Charents Museum of Literature and Arts
“Battle! Against tyranny, from the East to the West. It is on the field along that path that I want to die. Let the hot blood of my heart flow there and let the rows of our soldiers with sweaty and fiery eyes walk on my corpse, trampling it on the path to victory. And when the time comes to remove the bones of the executed heroes from the mass graves, and collect them one by one, and when under triumphant calls and resounding songs, the victory of freedom is celebrated and the memory of those killed commemorated, I will be there, among them.”
French-Armenian poet, writer and
French Resistance fighter
Group of Armenians saying goodbye to famous Soviet-Armenian poet Avetik Isahakyan (seen in the train window) Paris, France, 1930s.
A group of Armenians among them Louise (1st row, 3rd from the right) and Arpiar (1st row, 4th from the right), Missak Manouchian (second row, 3rd from the left) and Meline Manouchian (second row, 4th from the left?), 1930s.
The first page of Lass’s war diary, 1941-1942.
1. Lass’s Prisoner Registration Card. These cards were used to record prisoner’s details such as date of birth, nationality, address, religion, nationality, marital status, as well as transfers and entries to different camps. The reversed triangle at the top right represents the nationality and the prisoner category. The prisoners also had to wear the colored triangle on their clothing. The prisoners had to wear a colored triangle on their clothing that revealed their prisoner category. Red represented political prisoners. Image source: Arolsen Archives on Nazi persecution.
2. Lass’s personal effects card. These cards were used to record the personal belongings that prisoners had to hand over when they arrived at a concentration camp. According to the card, Lass had a shirt, silk underwear, a blouse, a skirt, a jacket, a purse (the handwritten item cannot be understood). Image source: Arolsen Archives on Nazi persecution.
A group of Armenians dressed in traditional Armenian garments during a parade dedicated to the heroes of the resistance on July 14, assumingly in 1947. Lass’s portrait is among the posters.
Louise by renowned Armenian sculptor and painter Yervand Kochar.