Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by konner. konner Wonders, “was curious george almost captured by the nazis” Thanks for WONDERing with us, konner!
Today’s Wonder of the Day is about a cute little animal who’s always getting himself into trouble. He has a very curious mind. Have you guessed who we’re talking about? Here’s another hint: he loves bananas. That’s right! Today, we’re learning about Curious George!
Millions of people know the monkey from the Curious George books, movies, and television shows. But few know much about his creators. Let’s explore how they brought one of the world’s most famous monkeys to life . . . and escaped from the Nazis to do so!
Have you ever read one of the “Curious George” books? If so, you know the authors are listed as H. A. Rey and Margret Rey. Those are the pen names of Hans Reyersbach and Margarete Waldstein. Both authors were born in Hamburg, Germany, but that’s not where they met. They found each other in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Hans was an artist who sketched and painted while also selling bathtubs and plumbing fixtures. Margarete was a photographer. The two married in 1935 and started an advertising agency. Margarete changed her name to “Margret.” They both changed their last name to “Rey,” because they thought it would be easier for people in Brazil to pronounce.
The couple also became Brazilian citizens. They enjoyed life in Rio de Janeiro. There, they kept two marmoset monkeys as pets. When they sailed to Paris for a honeymoon, they took the monkeys with them. Unfortunately, both animals died before arriving in Europe.
In Paris, the Reys began to write and illustrate children’s books. They were inspired by their pet monkeys from Brazil. Hans drew the illustrations, and Margret came up with the stories. In 1939, they began a story about a young monkey who was always getting into trouble. They called it “The Adventures of Fifi.”
In Paris, the Reys grew nervous as World War II began and the German army invaded and occupied many countries throughout Europe. German soldiers entered France in May 1940. Hundreds of thousands of Parisians fled the city. The Reys, who were Jewish, were hesitant to leave. They almost waited too long. By the time they decided to flee Paris, there wasn’t a single car or bike available in the city.
Hans searched for and bought every spare bicycle part he could find. In a matter of days, he was able to cobble together two bicycles. The Reys fled from Paris on the morning of June 12, 1940. They brought just a few possessions, including the manuscripts and drawings that would become the first “Curious George” book. Just two days later, the German troops entered the city.
With military planes flying overhead, the Reys joined millions of other refugees on the road south to safety. They stayed in farmhouses and stables as they rode their bikes and caught trains when they could. Finally, they made their way to Spain. From there, they went to Portugal and finally back to Brazil.
In October 1940, the Reys sailed to New York City. They found a publisher for their book who suggested they rename their main character. Fifi became George, and “Curious George” was published in 1941.
In many ways, Curious George’s antics reflect his creators’ struggles to escape the Nazis. He rides a bike. He dreams of flying. He finds himself caught up in circumstances beyond his control.
George’s story became one of the most popular children’s books of the 20th century. The monkey’s adventures inspired other books, movies, television shows, plays, games, stuffed animals, toys, and more. To date, more than 75 million copies of “Curious George” books have been sold in over a dozen languages worldwide.
In the video in today’sWonder Gallery (located near the top of this Wonder), Dr. Ruth Westheimer shares testimony about her journey. Like the Reys, Dr. Ruth was Jewish, and her life was in danger. In the video clip, Dr. Ruth describes how as a young girl she had to leave her home and family in Nazi Germany. She travelled by train to live in a children’s home in Switzerland.
Despite extreme hardships, Ruth chose to be strong and brave. To this day, she is thankful that she was kept safe during this challenging time. After the war, Ruth learned that both of her parents had died during the Holocaust. At 17 years of age, she emigrated to British Mandate Palestine, now known as the country of Israel.
Today, Dr. Ruth lives in New York and is a well-known media personality, therapist, and author. She preserves the memory of the Holocaust by telling her story for the next generation. Her story of survival is highlighted in her children’s book, “Roller Coaster Grandma: The Amazing Story of Dr. Ruth” and an animated short film, “Ruth: A Little Girl’s Big Journey.”
Have you ever read a “Curious George” book? Are you familiar with the work of Dr. Ruth? Do you have your own great idea for an exciting new children’s book? Now is a great time to start writing. We can’t wait to see your characters’ grand adventure!
Preserving memories are a vital part of the human experience, and USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive contains over 55,000 testimonies from survivors and witnesses—using audio and video—to educate future generations about the Holocaust and other atrocities, in support of the Institute’s mission to develop empathy, understanding, and respect through testimony so the next generation understands the importance of learning from the Holocaust and making the world a better place. Its IWitness platform contains many of these testimonies that were gathered using recorded interviews to tell the stories of survivors and witnesses.
Standards: C3.D2.His.2, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2