When ‘Curious George’ escaped from the Nazis

 

Perhaps you remember your parents reading “Curious George” books to you when you were a child? Or, maybe you’re familiar with “Curious George” because you’ve read the books to your own children?

For those who don’t know, “Curious George” is a fictitious brown-colored monkey who was taken from his home in Africa by “The Man with The Yellow Hat” to live in a big city.

He’s curious!

The original eight “Curious George” books — published from 1941 to 1966 — have sold up to 27 million copies and have been translated into at least 20 languages. A recuring theme in the books is of Curious George getting into all sorts of mischief and managing to escape from policemen, firemen, zookeepers and people who didn’t appreciate his mischief.

The “Curious George” series of books wouldn’t exist, however, were it not for the very real escape of its authors, Margret and Hans A. Rey, from the Nazis during World War II.

You can learn more about their harrowing escape on Wednesday, March 14, with the showing of the documentary, “Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators,” at Congregation Shalom, 7630 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Fox Point. The documentary is free and open to the public.

On Sunday, March 18, also at Congregation Shalom, Louise Borden, author of “The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey,” will discuss her book. The event is free and open to the public. The next day Borden will give a private speech to 500 local middle school students at Congregation Shalom.

The programs are a part of the 4th Annual Holocaust Speaker Event, which is a partnership between Congregation Shalom and the Nathan and Ester Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, held every spring at Congregation Shalom.

Kari Altman, the coordinator of outreach and public relations for HERC, said she sees similarities between the Reys and their famous character.

“Both the Reys and Curious George exhibited creativity, courage and resilience,” she said. “Everyone, regardless of their culture, religion or race love the ‘Curious George’ books, but not many people know the true story of survival of the Reys during the Holocaust.”

The Reys were German-born Jews, both from Hamburg. In the mid-20s, Hans went to Brazil to look for work. Margaret, his future wife, fled Germany after the rise of Hitler and also settled in Brazil. There they met and eventually married.

Louise Borden, author of “The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey,” is visiting Congregation Shalom.

Having no idea that Germany would later invade France, the Reys went to Paris for their honeymoon. There, they began writing children’s books. Hans drew the illustrations and Margret wrote the stories. Then war broke out. With the Nazis on their heels, they packed up their artwork and manuscripts and fled on bicycles to Spain, Portugal and then Brazil. In October 1940 they sailed to New York and Curious George — after being renamed from “Fifi” — was first published.

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At a glance:

What: The fourth annual Holocaust Speaker Event

Where: Congregation Shalom, 7630 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Fox Point

Programs: Wednesday, March 14, 7 p.m., showing of documentary, “Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators” (free and open to the public); Sunday, March 18, 2 p.m., author Louise Borden speaks to the community (free and open to the public).