When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is the first book of the trilogy Out of the Hitler Time, written by Judith Kerr, based on her childhood experience of fleeing from Germany with her family in 1933, travelling via Switzerland and Paris, and arriving finally in London in 1936.
It is a children’s book, labelled as suitable for ages 9-11. I came across it after listening to a discussion on BBC Radio4 last year. The radio program intrigued me such that I decided to read it nevertheless as an adult. It is written from Anna’s perspective, the youngest of the two children of a Jewish family, from age 9 onwards. Anna had limited understandings of the world, she observed and interpreted the activities around her in a children-like way, such that Many passages full of simplicity and genuineness of a child’s voice are not only hilarious to read, but also subtly trigger one to see the sufferings of the many Jewish families at that time. Despite the hardships they encountered after leaving a very affluent life in Berlin behind, the book radiates an abundance of positive energy. When I was reading the book, I often stopped and re-read some passages again to feel that strong resilience and hope, written in extraordinarily plain phrases, that Anna chose to have during their refugee journey.
I particularly like Anna’s very courageous way of embracing new challenges. After migrating from Germany to Switzerland, the family stayed in a small inn near Lake Zurich. Anna started going to school there and made new friends, even challenged the ritual of the local school that girls and boys play separately during breaks at school. She found that very strange compared with her school in Berlin and bravely showed a school boy how to play a certain game better. After a short time the family found themselves in financial difficulty and needed to move to Paris where Anna’s father could write and have more articles published to make the ends meet. Anna and her brother Max yet started schooling in French this time. Both of them found it very challenging and isolating at the beginning but with every little encouragements they received from people and eagerness from themselves, in only more than a year time later, both Max and Anna excelled at school and spoke like a proper French person.
You may still be wondering what is the value for an adult to read this book. That depends on your priorities. It was the best way for me to spend two late evenings and I am very positively surprised by this little volume. It is delightful, sad and thought-provoking.
Here are some quotes from the book to share with you.
“Next morning before school Anna ran into Papa’s room to see him. The desk was tidy. The bed was neatly made. Papa had gone. Anna’s first thought was so terrible that she could not breathe. Papa had gone worse in the night. He had been taken to hospital. Perhaps he… She ran blindly out of the room and found herself caught by Heimpi….” This bit resonated with me such that I decided to pause and gave my parents a quick “hello and bye” phone call before proceeding.
While still living in Berlin, Anna found herself like to write poems about disasters.
“Papa, do you really like the poem?” Papa said he did.
“You do not think it should be more cheerful?”
“Well,” said Papa, “a shipwreck is not really a thing you can be very cheerful about.”
“My teacher Fraulein Schmidt thinks I should write about more cheerful subjects like the spring and the flowers.”
“And do you want to write about the spring and the flowers?”
“No,” said Anna sadly. “Right now all I seem to be able to do is disasters.”
Papa gave a little sideways smile and said perhaps she was in tune with the times.
“Do you think then,” asked Anna anxiously, “that disasters are all right to write about?”
Papa became serious at once. “Of course!” he said. “If you want to write about disasters, that’s what you must do. It’s no use trying to write what other people want. The only way to write anything good is to try to please yourself.”
After hearing from a friend that the Nazis were putting a price of a thousand German Marks on her Papa’s head. Anna did not comprehend its meaning. In the middle of the night, she suddenly woke up and felt she knew with full clarify what putting a thousand Marks on a person’s head means.
“In her mind she saw a room. It was a funny looking room because it was in France and the ceiling, instead of being solid, was a mass of criss-crossing beams. In the gaps between them something was moving. It was dark, but now the door opened and the light came on. Papa was coming to bed. He took a few steps towards the middle of the room – “Don’t!” Anna wanted to cry – and then the terrible shower of heavy coins began. It came pouring down from the ceiling on to Papa’s head. He called out but the coins kept coming. He sank to his knees under their weight and the coins kept falling and falling until he was completely buried under them.”
There is one sentence still lingering in my mind, probably for a long time to come. Anna’s Papa said to their family friend Monsieur Fernand: “But you live in a free country. Nothing else matters!”.
When the newspaper at Paris struggled to pay Anna’s Papa for his articles, Anna’s parents were considering to make the journey to London to see the feasibility of migrating there, while leaving Anna and Max temporarily with their grandma. Anna protested strongly against her parents’ idea of leaving them in south France for a short while.
“It’s just that I think we should stay together, ” she said. “I do not really mind where or how. I don’t mind things being difficult, like not having any money, and I didn’t mind about that silly concierge this morning – just as long as we’re all four together”.
“I know,” said Anna, “but it’s different if you haven’t got a home. If you haven’t got a home you’ve got to be with your people.” She looked at her parents’ stricken faces and burst out, “I know! I know we have no choice and I’m only making it more difficult. But I’ve never minded being a refugee before. In face I’ve loved it. I think the last two years, when we’ve been refugees, have been much better than if we’d stayed in Germany. But if you send us away now I’m so terribly frightened…I’m so terribly frightened…”
“Of what?” asked Papa.
“That I might really feel like one!” said Anna and burst into tears.