The Silent Holocaust Hero

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My bubbie, Frieda Wintman, was full of humor and wisdom. She often said, “You never know what’s cooking in someone else’s pot.” She was right, of course, and not only in the home economics sense.

Like most true wisdom, Grandma Frieda’s words apply broadly to life. People’s faces cover feelings, knowledge and memories but, most important, stories.

Whose life demonstrates this truth better than Marcel Marceau’s? And amazingly to me, Bip’s white mask concealed more than I had ever imagined: the story of a Jewish hero of the Holocaust who was the rescuer of hundreds of Jewish orphans.

Marceau himself notes the connection between the art of the mime and the identity of the Jew. The attempt to eradicate the Jews, their culture and their religion is nothing less than an attempt to erase Jewish history and to mute the Jewish voice. Like Chaplin’s Tramp and Harpo Marx, Marceau’s Bip was a spot-on representation of the marginalized individual or group who, ironically and improbably, has the last laugh.

What made Marceau’s art universal is that Bip did not represent only the experience of the Jews, or any single group, but the shared experience of all groups which have been marginalized or oppressed. Of course it is exactly this feature of Jewish culture which elevates Judaism from mere tribalism, even sophisticated tribalism, to a truly noble form in combination of particularism and universalism. —Rabbi Kerry Baker

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