Friday, November 25, 2011

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

First published in 1971, I have chosen Judith Kerr’s children’s classic When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit to read for the fourth week of the German Literature Month challenge.  Kerr was born in Berlin in 1923.  Her family chose to flee Germany just before the Nazis came to power because her father, Alfred Kerr, a well-known writer, had openly criticized this regime.  When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is Kerr’s autobiographical novel about their flight.

The book begins just before the March 1933 election.  Things are pretty good for Anna, 9, and her older brother, Max.  They do well in school and enjoy playing with their friends.  They are Jewish, but secular Jews.  But one day her father disappears and Anna learns that he has traveled to Prague.  He had been warned that he would be a wanted man by the Nazis depending on what happened in the upcoming election.   

A few days before the election, the Reichstag Fire occurs and it is decided that the rest of the family would now travel to Switzerland to meet up with him.  All household goods are packed and put into storage, including all the toys and games that belong to the children.  Their Onkle Julius, who happens to have had a Jewish grandmother, but thinks he is safe and that the Nazis won’t last anyway, is sorry to see them go, but expects the family back with a short time.

The train to Switzerland is a harrowing adventure.  There is always the fear that the passports will be questioned or worse, taken from them, barring entry to Switzerland.  But everything goes well and the family arrives in Zurich and are all reunited.  They soon learn that the Nazis had shown up at their home in Berlin to collect their passports the morning after the election that gave Hitler supreme power in Germany. 

The formerly well off family suddenly finds themselves very poor and Anna’s father can find very little work as a writer/journalist.  Despite their neutrality, the Swiss don’t want provoke the Nazis right across the border.  Nevertheless, Anna and her family remain in Switzerland for about a year, living in two small, inexpensive rooms at a Gasthof.  It is very pleasant there; in fact, the only unpleasant incidents are from German visitors who refuse to let their children play with Jews.

It is later decided to move to Paris, in the hope of getting more paid work.  Once again the family find themselves living in a small, inexpensive apartment.  There are many adjustment difficulties, such as Max and Anna are expected to attend school and learn French at the same time.  Food and money are scarce, and everyone is beginning to get on each other’s nerves.  But they make friends with the Fernand family, which gives them some social outlet.  Eventually, the family makes it way to London, where things are expected to work out better for the family. 

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is an uncomplicated book, told from the point of view of a child, which Kerr was when she lived through these events.  Yet, if you read between the lines, it is a much more multifaceted story for anyone who knows something about the history of that period of time in Nazi Germany.   And Onkle Julius is typical of many people who believed that things would get better, that heritage didn’t count and by the time they realized the danger they were in, it was too late to leave Germany.

I did feel that Kerr’s depiction of what life is like as a refugee may have been a little too rose-colored, and since I felt that the character of Anna never really grew, so she saw everything rather naively.  The incidents where the family faced some serious danger from the Nazis were well done, but the day to day existence of having no money and being cold, hungry or afraid were really skimmed over.   On the other hand, Kerr is a self-proclaimed optimist and I am not.  Yet, I do feel that this is a book that should be read by both children and adults.

This book is recommended for readers age 9 and up.
This book was purchased for my person library.

This is book 4 of my German Literature Month challenge hosted by Lizzie's Literary Life and Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit 
Judith Kerr
Penguin Group
2009, 1971
192 Pages


  1. Wonderful review. Makes me want to read this book myself. Your bookblog.ning friend.

  2. Despite the fact that it seems to gloss over a few things this sounds like a very good book. Especially for children, I presume. I'm always saddened when I read how often they didn't see the terrible things come or didn't want to see them.

  3. Another wonderful review Alex. I think that life as a refugee must have been very tough which is why Kerr chose, especially considering the audience, to make it a bit less edgy.

    After all, if you tell the whole truth people are less likely to believe you.

  4. Hi, Alex, thanks for stopping by! I have read about this book, and believe my daughter read it, actually, when she was in school years ago. I'm familiar with what a Gasthaus(hof)is, since I lived in Germany growing up. They are like what we would classify as medium-sized houses with several bedrooms (possibly 4)and a couple of bathrooms. There would be a community kitchen, dining room and living room, a front gate and back yard. Living together in that manner would have been less expensive for everyone considered, and might have been very comfortable and less stressful for children since it would become a family atmosphere. That may account for the child's lack of emphasis on the hunger and struggles during the times. If anything, the children tend to be kept the most warm and fed! Your review is so comprehensive, and I hope I find a copy of this book to read myself one day soon. Thanks for all you do to keep these WWII topics alive, Alex. Ironically, I was thinking about you this week. Something's brewing, maybe??? Deborah

  5. Thank you, everyone, for your comments. I think this book would be good for kids to read, but I also think it gloss over some important things that at the time a 10 - 12 year old would be aware of.

    Deb, thanks for explanation of what a Gasthaus(hof)is like. The warm, family atmosphere is indeed evident in the novel and the children were happy for the year they lived there. I didn't know you had lived in Germany growing up - that must have been so exciting.

  6. I read this book as a child and loved it. It also really encouraged me to keep working at French, and to practise by watching French TV, in the hope that it would all slightly subliminally go in, as it does for Anna!

  7. I think this book would be good for kids to read, but I also think it gloss over some important things that at the time a 10 - 12 year old would be aware of.
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  8. I am in fourth grade . Me and two of my classmates weir reading this in reading groups as a project .It was a pretty good book .Anna and her family are forced to move all over the world.But they are very poor .I loved this book and I would read anytime again. I rate this five stars .I would recommend this for third to fourth graders . ,