Another side of Marcel Marceau


Marcel is best known as a mime performing on stage and film. His Bip The Clown is an iconic figure that most people born before the 1990s will recognise.

His truly legend worthy actions are only just becoming commonly known, 13 years after his death. His part in the actions of many brave people in World War 2 are the basis of the film, “Resistance”.

At the beginning of the war he was a teenager, part of the Jewish community in France. As the Nazis progressed through Europe, many people realised that the Jews were in trouble. Children were gathered up and removed to safe homes. Marcel Mangel, later to change his surname to Marceau, a less Jewish name, was supposed to become a butcher, but he wanted to be an actor, and he practised his art whenever he could. His older brother was joining the resistance and Marcel wanted to join too, but he was too young. Instead he was set to help with the evacuated Jewish children. He used his drama abilities and his artistic talent to entertain the children.

With the coming of Klaus Barbie, a Hauptsturmführer in the SS and Gestapo, and his energetic

passion to exterminate the Jewish race, Marcel started to teach the children the art of staying silent, moving silently and speaking in sign language as part of a physical education curriculum.

He was also a skilled artist and used these talents to doctor the identification papers of older teenagers and other children from Jew to Gentile, and to show that they were younger, so could not be deported to Germany to work as slave labourers in the armament factories.

In 1943 the Jewish leaders in the area realised that the children were no longer safe. Marcel led a band of children across the Alps to Switzerland and safety. On this journey the children put their skills of silence to good use saving their own lives.

Marcel completed three crossing, saving seventy children directly, but saving many more children and people indirectly.

He did not talk about this for most of his life.

In 2001 France awarded him the Raoul Wallenberg medal for his actions.

Marcel said, “There is a saying that whoever saves a child, a woman, a man, saves humanity.”

Watching the film, “Resistance” which tells his remarkable story, made me assess my understanding of the words ‘humanity’ and ‘inhumanity’.

In my opinion, “Resistance” is a film well worth taking the time to watch.

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