Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Big War: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

Judith Kerr's When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is an autobiographical story of one German Jewish family's experience in the early 1930's as Hitler's Nazi party came into power. Kerr's father was a well-known Berlin drama critic who had the foresight to move his family first to Switzerland and eventually on to France and England before persecution of the Jewish population began under the Third Reich.

In Kerr's fictionalized memoir, her main character Anna lives in a well-to-do, cosmopolitan, and non-observant Jewish family, but one in which the parents understand all too well the consequences of the coming election of Adolf Hitler. On the eve of the vote, Anna's father, knowing that he will be an early target because of his published opposition to the Nazis, takes a midnight train to Prague and from there to Zurich to locate a place for the family to live. Anna's mother and brother Max travel to Switzerland just hours ahead of the first wave of arrests, leaving behind their house and most of their belongings, including Anna's old but beloved pink rabbit.

Although then, in 1933, they still hope to return to their comfortable lives in Berlin, the family faces great changes in their circumstances. At first being a refugee seems a great adventure, as Max and Anna enroll in a local Swiss school and their father struggles to support them as an anti-Nazi writer. After a year in Zurich, they determine to move to Paris, where Anna struggles to keep up with her class at school while trying to learn French. Life in a tiny, down-at-the-heels apartment, pinching their centimes to get by, is a great comedown from their former position as Berlin intellectuals, but as the family learns of the increasing imprisonment, disappearance, and deaths of their Jewish friends in Berlin, they come to appreciate being together as a family even more. With the help of kind French friends, the family gets by. Anna becomes fluent in French during their second year in Paris and passes her certificate of studies exam, while Max receives top academic honors as well.

As their adjustment to French life improves, however, their financial situation in Paris becomes more difficult. Then. providentially for their future safety, Anna's father sells a screenplay to a producer in England, and the family prepares to go to London, learn another new language, and move beyond Hitler's grasp yet again. Although Anna's family is fortunate enough to escape the concentration camps which were the fate of other Jewish families, her absorbing story, told with loving detail, is an inspiring one of courage and strength by a writer who actually lived it herself.

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  • One of my cherished childhood books. Another excellent tale of WWII as seen through the eyes of a child: Carrie's War by Nina Bawden.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:36 PM  

  • Yes, Carrie's War is among several excellent stories of the English home front in World War II>

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:48 PM  

  • I enjoyed this book. It was a nice historical portrayal. I loved watching the character move to France and attempt to learn French. That seemed precisely the way things go in life--this one blink and suddenly *thoughts* are in a different language. I loved the ending as well. I tend to have the same opinion of my life, but others would beg to differ.

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