Angela Maranian was born Angéle Shamiram Nalbandian in Keskin Denek Maden Turkey on 15th May 1915 to parents Gazaros and Sultan (nee Chirinian) Nalbandian. Angela’s life story has been featured in many publications including the BBC World War II archives, the US Holocaust Museum and more recently in the publication entitled “Impact of an Ancient Nation”, created by Angela’s Granddaughter (Lena Maranian Adishian) to mark the centennial occasion of the Armenian Genocide.
Whilst Angela Maranian was born at the start of the 1st World War, her life was very much impacted by the after effects of the Armenian Genocide and the 2nd World War.
At the age of six Angela’s father died of suspected poisoning; a devastating incident which left her mother with four daughters and no means of supporting them. At that time Angela had a younger sister (Elizabeth) who was still a baby, a sister, two years older Hayguhi (known later as Reine) and another older sister (Akabi) who was encouraged to marry into the Topalian family at the age of 14. Angela and Reine were then sent to orphanages in Beirut (Lebanon), which seemed the only way her mother had of coping with the burden of raising her family on her own.
Arriving in Beirut the sisters were sent to different orphanages making their young lives even more traumatic. They had no shoes, very little clothes and they slept on the floor as there were no beds. After about six months Reine petitioned for the sisters to be put together, and they were reunited by moving to Jounieh (Lebanon). By this time the girls had lost all contact with their mother and two sisters, who remained in Turkey.
After two years, Angela, together with her sister, were offered the opportunity to be transferred to an Armenian orphanage in Alexandria, Egypt, which they accepted in 1923. The orphanage was run by wealthy Armenian tobacco growers named Matossian, who brought Armenian Catholic nuns from Rome to take care of orphaned children. The years they spent here were by far the happiest of their lives so far. The orphanage was clean and beautiful and they were able to sleep in beds for the first time they could remember. They continued with their basic education and were taught to read and write in Armenian.
Four years later, in 1927, an Armenian priest from Cairo asked if they knew of an uncle named Jean Nalbandian who was a priest that had studied in Rome and had risen to prominence in the Armenian / Catholic church. With an acknowledgment that they thought he was their uncle, attempts were made to reunite the girls with their mother who had been frantically trying to locate her daughters. The reunion eventually took place in Brussels after a further four years, in 1931.
It was to be eight years later, when Angela was 24 years old (following further education in Belgium and an occupation in dress making) that she married Maurice Maranian, a British subject living in Holland where he had his business. The date of the wedding was 26th August 1939 – just 8 days before Britain declared war on Germany. Angela moved to Holland to begin her married life in The Hague but in June 1940 her husband was placed in a compound by the Germans. She was able to visit for a few days, seeing him only through the boundary fence, until without any warning he had gone, having been moved to an internment camp in Poland.
Angela was faced with trying to fend for herself amid a completely uncertain future in a foreign country, not knowing if she would ever see her husband again. She was required to report to the Kammandant each week and in December 1940 she was arrested by the Germans, and was sent to a woman’s detention centre in Liebenau, Germany and her freedom was over.
Sleeping on a cold floor with lots of others became the norm, similar to the experience she had had as a young child. Life was tough and communication with her husband was difficult if not impossible.
German internees in Britain were kept together as families, unlike the German policy where families were completely separated. Pressure was placed on the Germans for this to change and in February 1943 Angela was moved to the beautiful spa town of Vittel, east of Paris, but she had to wait a further six months (September 1943) before Maurice arrived. It was in April 1944 that Angela gave birth to twins (a boy named Michael and a girl named Margaret). With all possessions and business lost in the war and two additional mouths to feed, the British Consulate arranged for them to be transferred to England, a country Angela had never been to. Once again her life was to be uncertain. She lived in England for another 63 years and loved life in the UK, but often used to say “I don’t really know where I come from”. She had the joy of giving birth to another son named Peter in 1948 but tragedy was to occur again when her husband died suddenly whilst on holiday when she was just 56 years old and her daughter Margaret lost her year-long battle with cancer, aged 46.
If she had not been forced to move from Turkey, following the Armenian genocide and the effects of World War I, who knows how different her life would have been. But one thing that stood out so strongly with Angela is that despite a life of unimaginable sadness and loss, she never had the remotest element of self-pity or desire to say how tough her life had been. Instead she was the most compassionate person you could meet, who would always give you a warm welcome and empathise with anyone that had a problem. She was so special and unique.
Written by Angela Maranian’s granddaughter Sam Adley and son Mike Maranian