Inside View Jan/Feb 2021
Have you ever wondered if you would be willing to risk your life to save someone else? Many Europeans faced that decision during World War II. Today, almost eight decades later, stories of men and women who risked everything to save Jewish people from death still emerge.
A coworker recently sent me an article about Marcel Marceau. Although Marceau passed away in 2007, he is still considered the world’s greatest mime. Made up in a white-painted clown face, he was renowned for his walking-against-the-wind routine and wiping his hand back and forth across his face to change from happy to sad.
What most people don’t know is that Marceau was Jewish. Born Marcel Mangel, he was the son of Charles Mangel, a Jewish butcher. He grew up in Strasbourg, France, along the German border. As a teenager in 1938, Marcel faced the momentous decision of whether to risk his life to save others.
On the night of November 9, vicious anti-Jewish riots swept across Germany. Known as Kristallnacht, “Night of Broken Glass,” it was a time of terror for Jewish people. Jewish homes and businesses were looted and destroyed. Jewish people were beaten by the thousands, and many were killed. By night’s end, 35,000 Jews were hauled off to concentration camps and hundreds of Jewish children had become orphans.
A wealthy Strasbourg woman “bought” 123 Jewish orphans from the Nazis and brought them to France.1 She turned them over to Marcel’s cousin, Georges Loinger, head of the Jewish Boy Scouts of France and a member of the Resistance during the war. Recognizing the children were traumatized, Loinger recruited Marcel to entertain and calm them.
Using routines that later became part of his famous repertoire, Marcel used mime to soothe the German-speaking children and overcome the language barrier between them and their French-speaking caregivers.
When Hitler invaded France in 1940, Marcel and the Resistance fled south to Lyon with the children. The relocation provided shelter for a while; but in 1942 Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, became head of the Gestapo. He was known for torturing and murdering Jews, including children.
Marcel and his brother forged documents for the youngsters. Marcel changed his surname to the French Marceau to hide his Jewish identity. On three separate occasions, he led orphaned Jewish children across the Alps into neutral Switzerland. Swiss laws didn’t permit refugees into the country. But if children made it to Switzerland, they would not be reported; and Save the Children would claim them.
The journey was treacherous. German soldiers patrolled the mountains to catch those fleeing. Marcel used mime to calm the children when the Germans stopped them to check their papers. By the end of the war, the Jewish Boy Scouts and Save the Children had rescued 10,000 youngsters.
Marceau did not escape the Holocaust. His father was sent to Auschwitz where he perished in 1944. Not knowing Auschwitz was a death camp, Marcel would sit and wait for the train from Poland, hoping his father would return.
Marceau never thought of himself as a hero. He only shared about rescuing the children a few years before he died at age 84. He spent his life entertaining others, but he lived with the sad memories of all the war took from him and of the orphaned children. His remarkable story was made into a movie, Resistance, in 2020.
Marcel Marceau risked his life to save others. This is the basic tenet of our salvation. Jesus Christ willingly gave His life so that, by believing in Him, we can be rescued from everlasting judgment and receive everlasting life with God.
- Alun Palmer, “Renowned mime artist Marcel Marceau saved Jewish children from the Holocaust,” mirror.co.uk, July 1, 2020 (tinyurl.com/MimeMarceau).