Marcel Marceau: The Silent Jewish Hero.

Marcel Mangel was born on March 22, 1923 in Strasbourg, France.  He was the son of Jewish parents. His father Charles Mangel,  was a kosher butcher from Poland.  His mother  Anne Werzberg, came from what is now the Ukraine.

At age 16, when France was invaded by Nazi Germany, Mangel and his family fled to Limoges.  Mangel was recruited to join the French Resistance by his cousin, Georges Loinger, who was a commander in the secret unit who was part of the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants, a Jewish relief group that smuggled Jewish children from occupied France to neutral countries.  Loinger, was credited with saving around 350 children, died on December 28, 2018 at the age of 108.

He was schooled in the Paris suburbs at the home of Yvonne Hagnauer, while pretending to be a worker at the school she directed.  Hagnauer later received the honour of Righteous Among the Nations from Yad Vashem.

In 1944 Mangel ‘s father was captured by the Gestapo, deported and killed at Auschwitz concentration camp. His mother survived.

Mangel and his younger brother Alain, adopted the last name “Marceau” during the German occupation of France. The name they chose was in reference to François Séverin Marceau-Desgraviers, a general of the French Revolution.

The two brothers joined the French Resistance in Limoges, where they saved numerous children from the race laws and concentration camps.

credit: History.com

Their mission was to evacuate Jewish children who had been hiding in a French orphanage and to take them to the Swiss border, where they would sneak to safety. Travelling with large groups of children was anything but easy.  Marceau had a secret weapon:  His training as a mime.

According to Marceau, when he was five years old, his mother took him to see a Charlie Chaplin film, which captivated him and led him to want to do mime.  The first time he used mime was after France was invaded, in order to keep Jewish children quiet while he helped them escape to neutral Switzerland.

“The kids loved Marcel and felt safe with him,” Loinger told the Jewish Telegraph Agency in 2007, after Marceau’s death. “He had already begun doing performances in the orphanage, where he had met a mime instructor earlier on. The kids had to appear like they were simply going on vacation to a home near the Swiss border, and Marceau really put them at ease.”

Marceau didn’t just use his acting skills to make the kids comfortable: He used them to save their lives. He mimed to save the lives of himself and the children.   It was a good way of keeping them quiet while they were escaping. Philippe Mora, the son of one of Marceau’s Resistance comrades, told The Age. “It had nothing to do with show business. He was miming for his life.”

Jewish children from Paris caught by the police before being deported to a camp in 1942. credit:Antoine GYORI/Sygma/Getty Images

The actor also posed as a Boy Scout leader to trick the authorities. He said in 2002 that he went disguised as a Boy Scout leader and took 24 Jewish kids, also in scout uniforms, through the forests to the border, where someone else would take them into Switzerland.  Once when he unexpectedly ran into a group of German soldiers near the end of the war, he pretended he was a member of the French Army and demanded they surrender. They did—all 30 of them.

Marceau’s exploits were just a few of the daring, and creative, feats pulled off by the French Resistance. Marcel Marceau saved at least 70 Jewish children from the Nazis through risky border crossings during World War II,

The OCE was particularly ingenious: For example, while smuggling children over the border, one Resistance fighter realised that Nazis never searched sandwiches that had mayonnaise on them since the oily condiment might dirty their uniforms.  As a result, they hid children’s ID cards in mayonnaise-smeared sandwiches.   Loinger was able to get Jewish children over the Swiss border by throwing a ball and telling them to retrieve it.

After the liberation of Paris, joined the French army.  Marceau’s excellent knowledge of  English, French, and German , he worked as a liaison officer with General George Patton’s Third Army

credit: pdxretro.com

In 1945, he enrolled as a student in Charles Dullin’s School of Dramatic Art in the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in Paris.

Marcel Marceau is perhaps best known for his 1947 creation Bip the clown, signifying the fragility of life in his striped pullover and battered silk hat, much like the Little Tramp, the alter-ego created by Charlie Chaplin.

Marceau according to Loinger was never very active in the Jewish community but continued visiting Jewish children’s orphanages after the war.

In 1959, he established his own pantomime school in Paris, then set up the Marceau Foundation to promote the art in the U.S.

Among his various awards and honours he was made “Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur” (1998) and was awarded the National Order of Merit (1998) in France.

He won the Emmy Award for his work on television, was elected member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin and was declared a “National treasure” in Japan. He was friends with Michael Jackson for nearly 20 years and Jackson said he used some of Marceau’s techniques in his own dance steps.

Marceau died at the racetrack in Cahors, France, on 22 September 2007 at the age of 84.  At his burial ceremony, the second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 (which Marceau long used as an accompaniment for an elegant mime routine) was played, as was the sarabande of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 5. Marceau was interred at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

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Credit to history.com  and Wikipedia
Video: Hat tip Christian Worldview.

 

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2 comments

  1. I remember watching Marcel Marceau mime during my childhood growing up in post-war Britain. I never saw him live, only on television and on the Big Screen. I was enthralled by him, by the way he could speak to you without the use of language. I never knew a single thing about him apart from his ability to touch my heart the way he did. His face could make you laugh and cry at one and the same time. Thanks for jogging my memory and for teaching me things about this most extraordinary man and his life story.

    • Thank you.
      Until about ten days ago, I too knew nothing about him, also growing up in post war Britain.
      I went to a Christian Worldview event, which I do quite often. Person who runs the events spoke about him and it was she who sent me the video.

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