Children's and Young Adult

Authors Who Escaped the Nazis and the Classic Characters They Created

During the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, many families fled as they knew they would have been targeted as troublemakers. Political writers, illustrators, authors, and any rebellious voice was a threat to the nationalist cause. The surrounding countries in Europe and the United States took in many creative minds, and their works still influence us today.

The Reys and Curious George

Margarete Elisabethe Waldstein, born in Hamburg in 1906, fled Nazi Germany in 1935 for Brazil, where she met another German Jew from Hamburg, Hans Reyersbach. They married and moved to Paris in 1936. While in Paris, Hans’ illustrations caught the notice of a publisher who published the first iteration of Curious George in the book Cecily G and the 9 Monkeys. The Reys, as they were later known, fled Paris on bicycles that Hans built himself just 2 days before the Nazis took the city. They used the publisher’s advance for their book The Adventures of Fifi, which would later be published as Curious George, to leave the city. They carried the manuscript with them as they went from Spain to Portugal to Brazil and ended up in New York, selling a 4 book deal just a few weeks later. Curious George was published in 1941 and was followed by six more George books written by the couple, although initially credit was only given to Hans as the publisher felt there were too many female authors writing children’s books. In 2010, Houghton Mifflin released a children’s book written by Louise Borden and illustrated by Allan Drummond about the Reys titled: “The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey”.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery and The Little Prince

At the outbreak of WWII, Saint-Exupéry and his wife, Salvadoran writer and artist Consuelo Suncin, fled Nazi-occupied France, arriving in New York City at the end of 1940.  Saint-Exupéry spent 27 months in the United States, and while working to push the United States to join the war against Nazi Germany he also wrote three of his most famous works. The Little Prince, a poetic tale self-illustrated with watercolors, was published in 1943 by Reynal & Hitchcock in New York. The first English American edition, which was published during the war, is the only edition available signed by the author. That same year Saint-Exupery returned to France to resume his career in aviation by flying for the French Resistance against Germany. In 1944 during a mission, he went missing and was presumed killed in action. As of April 2017, The Little Prince is the most translated non-religious text in the world, having been translated into 300 different languages.

Felix Salten and Bambi

Felix Salten was a prolific writer of articles, essays, novels, travel guides, and screenplays and was deeply involved in the literary community of Vienna, Austria, as the Nazis rose to power. His most famous novel, Bambi: Eine Lebensgeschichte aus dem Walde was first published in Austria in 1923 by Ullstein Verlag, then translated to English by Whittaker Chambers and published by Simon and Schuster in 1928. The novel, which had been inspired by World War I and written for adults, became hugely popular. It was chosen for the ‘book-of-the-month-club” in 1928 and sold 650,000 copies by 1942. Salten was Jewish and the plot was declared to be an allegory of Jewish life in Europe, and so Bambi was banned and burned in Nazi Germany in 1936, making a true German first edition very scarce. The first English edition from 1928 had an initial print run of 75,000 copies. Salten sold the movie rights in 1933 for a mere $1,000, and Disney later bought them and created the classic animated movie that was released in 1942.

Erich Kästner and Emil

Erich Kastner didn’t try to escape the Nazis. He chose to stay in Germany even though he was a pacifist who opposed the war and the Regime. In 1933, Kastner showed up at a Nazi book burning where his own book Fabian was one of the main sources of kindling. Although the Gestapo interrogated him many times, and many other writers fled, Kastner stayed with his mother in Germany to chronicle the war, with vague plans to write a novel about that time when it was over. It lasted longer than he imagined and he never did write his novel. Kastner’s children’s book Emil and the Detectives, first published in 1929, tells the story of Emil and his gang of friends who track down a bank robber. It was wildly successful when it was first published and has not gone out of print since.

Judith Kerr and The Tiger Who Came to Tea

Born in 1923 to a middle-class family in Berlin, Kerr escaped Nazi Germany with her family at eight years old after her father received word that his family’s passports were to be confiscated. Her father, Alfred Kerr, was an acclaimed essayist and critic of the Nazi party, who burned his books in their bonfires. In 1933 when Hitler became Chancellor, the family fled first to Switzerland, then to Paris, and finally to England. Over her lifetime, Judith Kerr has written 33 books that have sold over 10 million copies altogether. While The Tiger Who Came to Tea is a light-hearted story, Kerr also wrote a trilogy called Out of the Hitler Time, a semi-autobiography work based on her childhood experience. The first book, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, tells the story of the rise of Nazi power in Germany and the experience of refugees from a child’s point of view.

1 Comment

  • not to mention Feodor Rojankovski, Tibor Gergely, Esphyr Slobodkina and many more. This just barely skims the surface.

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