Google honored Marcel Marceau, the legendary pantomime, on the 100th anniversary of his birth via its Google Doodle. In character as Bip the Clown, Marceau said nothing, telling stories through gestures and expressions. Bip, a white-faced clown wearing a disheveled hat with a rose sticking out, retired when Marceau died in 2007.
Many people don’t know that before Marceau gained global fame for miming, he fought against the Nazis as part of the French Resistance. Marceau, a Jew, evaded deportation to concentration camps partly because he changed his identity.
Marceau changed his name from Mangel to Marceau to hide his Jewish heritage
Marcel Marceau was born Marcel Mangel in March 1923 to Jewish parents. He adopted the name Marceau to hide his Jewish heritage, reducing the likelihood of deportation by the Nazis. Alain, his older brother, also adopted the name Marceau, a reference to a famous general of the French Revolution.
The name Marceau allowed him to continue his education in the Paris suburbs. After a while, Marceau emerged from the shadows to play an active role in the French Resistance.
As he accepted the Raoul Wallenberg Medal for humanitarianism, Marceau said that he and Alain forged identity cards and papers for Jews and Gentiles. “It is true that I saved children, bringing them to the border on Switzerland,” he said.
As part of the Jewish Army, Marceau rescued Jewish children and transported them to safe houses and neutral countries. Marceau’s cousin, Georges Loinger, said that Marceau kept the children silent and at ease using his performances:
“The kids loved Marcel and felt safe with him. The kids had to appear like they were simply going on vacation to a home near the Swiss border, and Marcel really put them at ease.”
Marceau saved more than 70 Jewish children from the Nazis. Phillipe Mora, whose father worked alongside Marceau, told The Age that self-preservation also motivated Marceau. “Marceau started miming to keep children quiet as they were escaping. It had nothing to do with show business. He was miming for his life,” Mora said.
Though the exact sequence of events remains unclear, the Jew posing as a French soldier persuaded 30 German soldiers to surrender or risk slaughter. “He brought them all back to his base as prisoners,” Loinger said. “Marcel always said that was his greatest exploit as a soldier.”
Millions, including Marceau’s father, died during the Holocaust. “I cried for my father, but I also cried for the millions of people who died,” Marceau said. “And now we had to reconstruct a new world.”
Like the survivors of Nazi persecution, Marceau chose not to speak about the war’s profound effect on his life. He explained: “The people who came back from the [concentration camps] were never able to talk about it. My name is Mangel. I am Jewish. Perhaps that, unconsciously, contributed towards my choice of silence.”