Marcel Marceau’s parents — His father’s tragic death

Marcel Marceau

Marcel Marceau was a French mime artist who performed worldwide for decades as Bip the Clown. Marceau was so good that he remained relevant long after the entertainment industry ditched silent performances.

Marceau honed his craft in France during World War II as the Nazis hunted and executed Jews like him. He resisted and saved lives not through guns and bullets but through expressions, movements, gestures, and wit. 

However, as we shall see below, though his resistance efforts saved many, liberation came too late for Marcel Marceau’s father. 

Marceau’s mother introduced him to Charlie Chaplin, who inspired Marceau to start performing

Marcel Marceau was born on 22nd March 1923 to Charles Mangel and Anne Werzberg. Marceau’s Jewish parents settled in Strasbourg, France, as anti-semitism spread across Europe. When Marceau was 4, the family moved to Lille before returning to Strasbourg.

Marceau was five when his mom introduced him to Charlie Chaplin. He based his art on Chaplin’s performances and would later use Chaplin as the inspiration for Bip the Clown. Marceau studied art and performed in local theaters, sharpening a craft that would entertain people for decades. 

“The character of Bip was entirely inspired by Chaplin,” Marceau told The UNESCO Courier. “He was very popular when I was a child, and by the age of ten I was already imitating his funny walk.”

Luckily, Marceau’s education continued after the German invasion of France. He posed as a worker at a school directed by Yvonne Hagnauer, who would later receive accolades for sheltering Jews during the war. 

Marceau’s father died in the Auschwitz concentration camp

Marceau and his brother, Alain, left home in Strasbourg to join the French Resistance. After the Allies liberated France, Marceau returned to his childhood home and found ruins. 

Marceau learned that the Gestapo had arrested his parents in 1944 and transported them to concentration camps. His father died in the Auschwitz concentration camp, but his mother survived. Marceau said:

“After the war I didn’t want to speak about my personal life. Not even that my father was deported to Auschwitz and never came back. I cried for my father, but I also cried for the millions of people who died. And now we had to reconstruct a new world.”

Georges Loinger, Marceau’s cousin and a French Resistance soldier who rescued hundreds of Jewish children, had insisted that Marceau remain safe as he would play ‘an important part in theater after the war’. Loinger’s prediction came true: Marceau’s first professional performance was before 3,000 US soldiers. 

“I played for the G.I.s, and two days later I had my first review in the Stars and Stripes, which was the paper of the American troops,” Marceau said