The French Mime Who Smuggled Jewish Children to Swiss Safety


As a teenager in wartime France, Marcel Mangel helped fight Nazis in unusual ways–he doctored the passports of Jewish children, making them seem younger so they weren’t sent to labor camps.

He also dressed up groups of children as boy scouts and led them on “hiking expeditions” along the French-Swiss border, smuggling them to safety. Even as his father, a kosher butcher, was deported to Auschwitz, Marcel joined the French Resistance and continued to fight the occupation. It was around this time that he changed his last name to “Marceau,” taking the surname of one of the generals of the French Revolution.

Following the war, Marcel enrolled in dramatic school at the Sarah Bernhardt Theater in Paris. He started there as a dancer, but eventually went in another artistic direction, refining the techniques he’d developed to keep children silent as they crossed over the border to Switzerland.

Marcel Marceau became the world’s most famous mime, appearing frequently on variety shows and performing for world leaders. He also had the only speaking part in Mel Brooks‘ film Silent Movie–asked whether he would audition, he said, “No!” A new picture book, Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime, tells about his life in a way that’s sensitive to children but doesn’t shirk from the seriousness of his story.

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