This week the world bid farewell to a great performer. Marcel Marceau, the famous mime artist, died at the age of 84 after a lifetime of brilliant communication without words. I’ll leave it up to the eulogies to sing his praises. What I want to write about is what he actually said on a visit to Australia many years ago.
Marceau had a cousin living in Australia who was a personal friend of our family, so I have this information from a reliable source. I am writing about this because the French Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, praised Marceau’s contribution to French culture and I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony that had the French nation had its way during the Second World War, Marceau would have been well and truly silenced during the Holocaust. His fear of the French handing him over to the Nazis is what he discussed with his Australian relatives.
Like many French Jews, Marceau, whose real name was Mangel, had to change his Jewish name and hide from the French who would hand many Jews over to the Nazis. Among such Jews were my aunty and her daughter, who survived the war by pretending to be Christian and in fact my cousin even had to get baptised just to be safe. As Marceau said, the threat was from the citizens of France who have a deserved reputation for collaborating with the Nazis.
Marceau’s father perished in Auschwitz. My aunty survived and was reunited with her husband who had spent many years in several Nazi camps, but it was no thanks to the French people.
Am I bitter about this? Yes, for sure. It is not enough to have style and panache and good cuisine and elegant fashions. A nation should also have some morals and sadly, this was lacking in the French nation during the Second World War.
So isn’t it ironic that Marceau should be awarded the French Legion of Honour. As if that could make up for France’s betrayal of many of it own citizens.
As the great Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, wrote in the eleventh century:-
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
I have still not heard any apologies from the French people for their betrayal and no amount of Legions of Honour awards will change what happened.