Heroes of History - Marcel Mangel

Whilst researching for my current series of blogs for Parasearch Radio I have been lucky enough to quite literally stumble across some totally amazing feats of bravery and fortitude achieved by famous names that you would not associate with such acts.

This tale is no different and yes, it is true.

On 22nd March 1923, Marcel Mangel was born in Strasbourg France, to a Jewish family with his father and mother initially coming from Poland and Ukraine respectively. He and his family fled to the Limoges region of France in response to the invasion of France by the Germans at the outset of World War II and quite soon, Marcel was persuaded to join the French Resistance fighters in that area. In 1944, Marcel’s father was arrested by the Gestapo and transported to the infamous and terrifying Auschwitz, where tragically – as were so many – he was killed. After the war, Marcel is reported as having said “If I cry for my father,” said Marceau, “I have to cry for the millions of people who died. “I have to bring hope to people,”

Whether this horrendous event is what spurred Marcel – who had by now changed his surname to Marceau – on to do what he subsequently did, who knows, but it must have been a contributing factor. His first role for the resistance was utilising his artistic abilities as he had previously been at art school in forging identity papers to make both Jewish and gentile youths appear too young to be sent to the labour camps and German factories. In fact, it was he who created the new papers for his brother and himself with their name change, Marceau being in homage to a famous French Revolution General that he had read about.

His cousin, Georges Loinger, who had been responsible for persuading young Marcel to join the resistance, was also part of a relief mission called “Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants” which translates to relief work for children, and this was to smuggle Jewish children out of occupied France and into neutral countries to save them. Loinger is credited with saving over 350 children and only died in December 2018 at the age of 108, an incredibly courageous man himself.

But where did Marceau come in? His later character Bip the Clown was yet to be invented but he does recall having been to watch a Charlie Chaplin film when he was a small child which made him want to become a mime when he grew up. It was this ambition that was to help hundreds of French children who were hiding in a small orphanage waiting to cross the border into Switzerland and to safety. The biggest issue they had was ensuring that large groups of children appeared at ease and were giving the illusion that they were just going on vacation to a holiday home near the Swiss border and not escaping from possible death. He would use his talent of pantomime and mimicry to keep the scared children quiet and calm during the more dangerous moments of the escape. Not just that, he also had to draw on his acting skills to convince both Vichy and German authorities that he was either a teacher or sometimes a youth leader taking his young group to exercise camp.

The Marceau that most of us know is that of his mime and silent clown, but I like to think that the more people hear about his amazing feat of heroism that you can see where his characters came from. Marcel lived until the grand old age of 84, passing away in September 2007, but it is a quote of his that perhaps best sums up how his talent saved so many lives

“Never get a mime talking, He won’t stop”

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