Book name: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
Author: Judith Kerr
Publisher: Harper Collins
Format: Print, audiobook, ebook
Genre: Vintage children’s book
Publication Date: 1971
Star Rating: 5/5
Judith Kerr was a beloved German-English writer of children’s books, but her life began in Berlin. Her mother was a composer and her father was a theatre critic.
Judith Kerr was born in 1923 and she died in 2019. She wrote the much-loved ‘Mog’ series of children’s books as well as The Tiger Who Came to Tea.
My daughter cherished the ‘Mog’ books as a small child. I particularly appreciated ‘Goodbye Mog’.
It was heart wrenching to say goodbye to Mog, but very affirming to see her ghostly form supporting the kitten who replaces her. It was also incredibly helpful in terms of introducing young children to the loss of a pet.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is semi-autobiographical.
Anna is a happy schoolchild with an older brother (Max), a love of tobogganing and a talent for writing poems that she also illustrates.
Aged nine, Anna has a comfortable life. Her family can afford to have a housekeeper who also looks after the children. Her parents enjoy their work.
All that changes on the eve of the elections in 1933 that brought Hitler to power.
Anna’s father is perceptive and far-sighted. These qualities save the family’s lives when he flees to Prague, calling for his wife and children to meet him in Switzerland.
Anna is forced to choose between two toys: her much-loved pink rabbit and the toy dog she has only just acquired and barely begun to play with.
Her matter-of-fact choice of the dog stands as an image of children’s adaptability and courage in face of forced change.
In our own times, the sight of child refugees being met at borders as they arrive in a safe country and handed a toy in welcome to replace those left behind mirrors this experience.
Others who aren’t so clear-minded in their predictions, such as Anna’s Onkel Julius, pay a heavier price when the Nazis sweep to power.
His unwillingness to accept the real danger that lies ahead will lead to his destruction, in a bold contrast to Anna’s father’s bold ability to grasp the truth and save his family.
Anna is shielded from much of the effects of Nazi power simply through the promptness of her parents’ assessment of the situation. She is very lucky.
They are able to escape early in the Nazi regime, and her father’s reflective approach and willingness to accept the changed reality lie at the heart of this.
Initially, times are tough because in Switzerland her father finds it hard to get work.
The Swiss authorities are reluctant to endorse him by providing employment, and Anna criticizes them for being outwardly neutral while bending to the requirements of their German neighbour.
The family journey on to Paris and then, finally, to London. Family assists them at every turn. Anna is able to adapt to the experience of being a refugee through a network of family, but also through the friends she makes.
The choices forced on children by the political views of their parents is brought to the fore during the early part of the book when some German children are prevented from playing with Anna and her brother.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is very affirmative. Although forced to leave her home, her friends and her cherished toy behind, Anna can rely on her parents to keep her safe and to provide for her.
Extended family provide a network of resilience for Anna that is often seen today in refugees seeking safety in a country where they already have family.
Issues surrounding immigration and refugees are often dealt with in our media in a manner that is profoundly dehumanising towards those affected.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit humanises the child refugee by telling Anna’s story (she is the sole point-of-view character) in a unique way. Anna is a child, not unlike any other young person around the world. Her concerns are those of children all over the world, both then and today. However, she remains her own person.
At the end of 2021, the UNHCR reported that globally 103 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide, either internally or abroad. Of these, 36.5 million were children.
The issues portrayed in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit are as a pertinent today as they were when Judith Kerr’s family fled Hitler in 1933. The book is immensely moving and a great reminder of the universality of childhood and the humanity of each individual refugee, be they child or adult.
Thank you for reading my review.
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