Marcel, born January 14, 1937 and his older sister Paula, born January 10, 1934, were the children of Max and Frieda Mermelstein, living in the bustling sea port of Antwerp, Belgium. Jewish presence in Antwerp dates as early as 1526. Like the great majority of Antwerp's 50.000 Jews, Marcel's parents were east European immigrants who left their native homelands to live in the more tolerant society of Western Europe. The father, Max, was a butcher, and although not rich, he was able to provide for his family's needs. Upon the German invasion of Belgium, in the spring of 1940, the Mermelstein family escaped to France. But France quickly came under German domination. Soon thereafter the Nazis began rounding up Jews for deportation and death. For two years the family avoided capture, but eventually Marcel and his family were arrested and imprisoned at the Rivesaltes Internment Camp, where their stay was short. Marcel's father, Max, managed to escape and join the Resistance, while Mrs. Mermelstein went into hiding in southwestern France.
Marcel and his sister Paula were sent to live at the children's home in Izieu, France. The peaceful surroundings provided comfort and shelter for over 40 Jewish children whose lives had been disrupted by the war. However, the relative calm of the children's home did not last very long. On April 6, 1944, the Nazis raided the home and deported the children to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland where they were gassed immediately upon arrival. Soon after the raid Marcel's mother was arrested, probably because her address had been found in the raid on the children's home. She was also sent to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
Marcel was seven years old.