Fran Morris 9-29-2022
Ever since the 1950s, Marcel Marceau has been one of my favorite entertainers. While I never saw him in person, I was drawn to his white-face and cartoon-like clothing. Although he looked like a sad clown, I saw a tender heart, loving eyes, and non-threatening movements.
Because of his name, I assumed he was French; however, the article in The Mirror, “Renowned mime artist Marcel Marceau saved Jewish children from the Holocaust,” revealed that he had changed his surname from the German Mangel to the French name with which we are familiar. He grew up in Strasbourg and knew the German language, which helped when talking with German soldiers.
As a youth, his ambition was to be a theater performer and playwright, though his father downplayed it. All that changed during Kristallnacht, when Jews were killed in the streets and Jewish businesses were destroyed. Marcel was a member of the Jewish Boy Scouts, and someone asked them if they could help.
Marceau decided to help, and his dreams of being famous faded; his desire instead became to help traumatized children calm their fears. I remember seeing his mimes, which I did not understand at the time: the hand passing across his face and back again, the hat with a flower, and the funny way he walked. In fact, the article states that Marceau’s “walking against the wind” routine inspired Michael Jackson’s famous moonwalk.
It wasn’t until I read this article that I realized Marceau’s fame and renown were not due to his television performances. Those performances did not come until after his acclaimed work with the Jewish Resistance forces who risked their lives three times to get children to safety in Switzerland during the Holocaust. According to the article, the Jewish Boy Scouts, Jewish Resistance, and Save the Children rescued 10,000 children. That is an accomplishment that isn’t highlighted in history books.
Marceau died in 2007 at the age of 84. Throughout his life he didn’t like taking credit for his heroism, but his story is now being told in a movie, “Resistance.”