“Do Not the Most Moving Moments of Our Lives Find Us Without Words?”

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So asked Marcel Marceau.

The following story of his life was sent to me via e-mail:

“He was born Marcel Mangel on March 22, 1923, in Strasbourg, Alsace. His father Charles, was a kosher butcher who loved the arts. Marcel’s mother Anne nee Werzberger, took him to a Chaplin movie when her son was five. He was entranced.

At the beginning of WWII, he and his brother, Alain, hid their Jewish origins, and changed their name from Mangel to Marceau. His father died in Auschwitz. His mother survived the war.

The French Resistance was headed up by many Jews. Marcel and Alain joined the Resistance in Limoges. The Jewish children had to be protected from both the French police and the Germans.

Although he was trilingual, Marcel taught hundreds of Jewish children the art of communicating in mime because it was important for the children to converse silently. The children were brought to safety by Marceau in Switzerland.

In 1944, he joined the Free French Forces under General Charles de Gaulle, acting as liaison officer to General Patton’s army. Marceau entertained thousands of US troops after the liberation of Paris.

Marceau was discovered by Laurel and Hardy. He spoke only once in a performance. In Mel Brooks’ film “Silent Movie,” Marceau said the word, “Non.”

He never recovered from his father’s loss.

“You see the pain and the sadness in his mime skits,” his cousin, George Loinger said. “The origin of that pain was his father’s deportation.”

*Interesting addendum: one reader writes that she studied with Marcel and he was very talkative while not onstage.

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1 Comment

  1. Danielle on 01.08.2011 at 19:19 (Reply)

    Dear Susan:

    Thank you for this post. I had no idea he and his family had gone through all of this. It just breaks my heart.

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