19 March 2010

3028) Diaspora-Armenians & Nazi Germany

Related Link: Nazi-Armenians Helped Hitler Exterminate Jews

Honouring those Armenians overseas who fought and defeated Nazi Germany 65 years ago, a small but interesting exhibition opened yesterday in the Yerevan Municipality building entitled “The Diaspora during the WW II Years”. There are all sorts of memorabilia at the exhibit portraying just a few of the Armenians in the Diaspora who served in the military of their newly adopted homes.. . .

It is estimated that 50,000 were fighting against fascism in the ranks of the allied troops. 20,000 Armenians were in US army with 38 generals and 30,000 Armenians were in the armies of France and Great Britain. Then there were those thousands of Armenians who were fighting against fascism in partisan detachments and in the anti-Nazi movement, in concentration camps and prisons of Paris, Sofia and Greece.

Naturally there is a corner of the exhibition room dedicated to the exploits of Missak Manouchian and his resistance fighters. One of the display cases contains a cylinder of his ashes and a “Medal of Resistance” he was awarded after being arrested and executed by the Nazis in 1944. There is also an original of the infamous piece of Nazi propaganda entitled l’Affiche Rouge (the Red Poster). Many of the curios on display come from the Manouchian School in Yerevan.

Opposite the Manouchian exhibit, one comes across a placard recounting the tale of Mkrtich Dashtoyan, who was posthumously awarded with the medal for “Military Deed” by the Government of Italy. He and Gevork Kolozyan were members of the 54th Strike Brigade, harassing the Germans in Italy at every turn. They and countless other Armenian partisans died while fighting in France, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and other countries.

There is an interesting newspaper clipping from a Tehran Armenian newspaper detailing the funds collected for the Marshall Baghramyan tank brigade that made it all the way to Berlin. The exhibit, while limited, nicely gives one a feeling of the enormous contributions made by Armenians during the war especially when you consider that it was a mere 25 years after the national calamity of 1915. I won’t even attempt to comment on the fact that survivors of the 1915 Genocide and their offspring were now battling with a German military that had allied itself with the Ottoman rulers and had provided assistance and training to the Young Turk war machine just a generation before.

Other displays in the exhibit focus on Armenians serving in the U.S. Military during WW II. During WWII, longing for their native villages and towns they were forcibly removed by the Turks, U.S. Armenian-American pilots painted the names of these locations on the fuselage of their Mustangs and Corsairs. Among them was Ernest Dervishyan, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor. He and hundreds of other Armenian-Americans, from Generals to infantry men, gave their lives to achieve American victories in Normandy, Okinawa, Sicily and other war theatres of WWII.

There is the story that my late uncle Vahe would tell us about his 18 months in a German prison camp after being captured in North Africa early in the war. In the camp, the American and Soviet prisoners were separated by barbed wire and lived in different barracks.

One day, Uncle Vahe, sitting on his side, munching on a stale piece of black bread, looked up and noticed that a prisoner from the other side was staring at him. Uncle Vahe would relate that the man looked oddly familiar, prominent nose, black hair, and dark eyes. The two looked at each other and then it dawned on Vahe to ask, “Toun hye es?” To which the other man replied “Ha, yekel em Hayastanits”. Sadly, the Germans soon moved their Soviet prisoners to another location and my uncle never saw that Soviet Armenian prisoner again.

This is just one of the memories of the men and women who fought in the war that the exhibit rekindled in me. It’s worth a quick visit.

The exhibition will run till April 25

[ 2010/03/19 Hrant Katarikyan Hetq.am.


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