As the High Holy Days draw near, during my reflections, I have thought about Marcel Marceau. Marcel Marceau died on Yom Kippur September 22, 2007. He was famous and well-loved for his pantomime act. With each performance, he tried to spread the word of silence through his body language and expressiveness. Silence, he felt, was another form of language, a language that could vividly express what words could not.
He felt silence and the art of pantomime could blend together, creating scenes reflective of humor and of intensity, of good versus evil, of man’s place in the scheme of things.
I remember seeing him on TV when I was an adolescent, and never knew that this man, this man with the most expressive eyes and eyebrows I had ever seen (often exhibiting pain), was Jewish. Not that it mattered, because he spoke to me through his illuminating movements, and I was enthralled, mesmerized and held captive each time I saw him. His ability to portray the fragility of life was incredible, brilliant and masterful, and he held my attention, and my eyes were glued to the screen.
Like many other individuals, I did not know that he had joined the French Resistance, along with his brother. I did not realize his father was deported and died in Auschwitz, and he never truly was able to get over that fact. I did not realize he was born Marcel Mangel, and he and his brother began using the surname Marceau in order to not bring attention to themselves during a time when Jews were deemed unnecessary beings. I did not find out until I was an older adult.
The man that moved me emotionally, as a child, still moved me to tears watching him, as an adult. Tears flowed, along with an enormous lump in my throat, when I first realized the extreme circumstances he endured, and sacrifices he made in order to rescue Jews, mainly children. His miming and teaching of silence to children during World War II helped save many children, as their ability to remain quiet during escaping from France to Switzerland and other locations became a huge factor in their safety. They had to learn to communicate in silence, and miming became their form of conversation.
I could barely swallow, never mind breath, upon hearing the news of his past. Where was I! How could I not have known! He was a man of conscious, a man of dedication to the cause of humanity, a man who touched so many lives throughout his lifetime, and a man I will not soon forget.
If you were to ask me, I could not articulate why his creative beauty, his ability to evoke emotion, and why his life’s history has affected me, but there are some instances that need no answers. It is what it is…
Since his death on Yom Kippur, 10 Tishrei, 5768, it has been impossible for me not to think of him during the month of Elul and during the High Holy Days.
I will remember him as a light of intense silence, silence that saved innocent children during World War II, silence that broke through boundaries with resounding precision, silence that illuminated the hearts of others.
I have designed my style pantomimes as white ink drawings on black backgrounds, so that man’s destiny appears as a thread lost in an endless labyrinth… I have tried to shed some gleams of light on the shadow of man startled by his anguish. Marcel Marceau
May he be resting in peace. May his memory be for a Loving Blessing. Zikhrono Livrakha.
Here is a link to a photograph of Marcel Marceau’s gravesite if you choose to view it.
Links regarding Marcel Marceau:
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem, to be much adult material, as far as books are concerned, regarding Marcel Marceau. Most seem to be geared towards children in relation to pantomime. Some that were published decades ago, are out of print.