Newest Review: ... in Germany in the 1930s on the eve of Hitler's rise to power and its impact on families like Anna's. I love the way real historical even... more
A moving historical novel from a child's perspective
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit - Judith Kerr
Member Name: CarolineR-D
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit - Judith Kerr
Advantages: Moving, a fascinating period of history, strong characters
What is the novel about?
9 year old Anna lives in Berlin with her parents and 12 year old brother, Max. The year is 1933 and Anna and her friends can't help noticing lots of posters of the man with the Charlie Chaplin moustache whose name is Adolf Hitler. "He wants everybody to vote for him in the elections and then he's going to stop the Jews," says Anna's friend, Elsbeth. Anna has never thought too much about being Jewish before but her father has told her that no matter what happens, she and her brother must never forget it. Change is in the air. The man in the paper shop is muttering about "terrible times" and then one morning Anna wakes up to find that her father, a distinguished writer known for his anti-Nazi sympathies, has gone. Suddenly the family's life is turned upside down as they prepare to leave Germany to join Papa in Zurich, leaving behind people and possessions that are dear to them. The novel recounts their adventures as they discover what it is like to be refugees, first of all in Switzerland and later in France. As Papa sums it up - "You live in a country all your life. Then suddenly it is taken over by thugs and there you are, on your own in a strange place, with nothing." How will the family cope? Who will they meet along the way? What will happen to the people they left behind?
My thoughts about the book
This is a wonderful novel. For children aged about 10 years and upwards it provides a fascinating introduction to life in Germany in the 1930s on the eve of Hitler's rise to power and its impact on families like Anna's. I love the way real historical events are recounted, such as the children waking up to the sound of fire engines and the sky a brilliant orange on the night the Reichstag was burnt down. The disruption of Anna's childhood and the loss of wealth and status experienced by her family is sensitively portrayed, showing the inevitable tensions and disagreements that result, but also the overpowering love they share, which sustains them throughout their difficult times. This is a gentle read. Don't expect the horror of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas or the heartbreak of The Diary of Anne Frank. Yet, in its own low-key way this book is no less powerful or thought provoking.
When I saw the rather twee title I imagined that this book might be an overly sentimental read, but this is not the case. The pink rabbit of the title is only mentioned a couple of times and relates to the property the family is forced to leave behind when they flee Germany. It is a symbol of Anna's former life, a life 'stolen' by Hitler. Whilst we do see Anna shedding tears for what she has lost, this isn't done in a way to pull at the heartstrings. (I dreaded having to read pages and pages about a little girl who is traumatised because she has to leave a cherished old toy behind!) The author doesn't need to lay it on too thickly. By underplaying it and avoiding scenes of high emotion, the narrative is more poignant somehow and the stoical way Anna and her family deal with things is moving and very inspiring.
This could so easily have become a dreary, depressing book but the author has injected quite a bit of humour into it. There is a lovely line where Anna's brother laments the loss of their games compendium, which was left behind, and remarks - "Hitler's probably playing snakes and ladders with it this very minute."
There are some colourful, amusing characters too, such as Herr Graupe, Anna's teacher in Switzerland, who doesn't seem to know very much about conventional subjects but is a very good yodeller. We meet the children's grandmother, Omama and her crazy dog, Pumpel, and Great Aunt Sarah, who communicates via an ear trumpet. The scenes where we see Anna's mother struggling to learn to cook and sew are quite amusing too, as are the children's early attempts to master new languages and get to grips with the local customs.
It is beautifully written with some lovely descriptive passages but again, nothing is over the top. Long passages of ornate description can be off-putting, particularly to younger readers, so I am glad to say this book is written in a simple but evocative style. There is a passage when the children and their mother are leaving Germany by train and Mama tells them to look out for the miles and miles of beautiful orchards in Southern Germany. "If the blossom isn't out this time, can we see it another time?" asks Anna. Her mother does not reply at once but then she answers, "I hope so." It's an understated but poignant moment. I love the descriptions of steamer rides on the lake in Zurich and Anna's excursion into the Swiss mountains to see a sunrise. Paris is brought to life beautifully too. The author paints a picture of glass fronted cafes, glittering shops and the smell of the metro - "a mixture of garlic and French cigarettes." There is a lovely passage where Anna goes to the top of the Arc de Triomphe on a cold afternoon with her father and a fabulous account of the 14th July celebrations - the anniversary of the French Revolution. The author makes you feel as if you are there in Paris with Anna and her family, soaking up the atmosphere. What comes across is how much beauty there still is in a world, which in many respects has turned ugly. It is perhaps unsurprising that Judith Kerr has such an eye for detail as the book is largely autobiographical. Born in Berlin, she left soon after the Nazis took power and her family lived in Switzerland, France and then Britain.
Would I recommend it?
Absolutely. I recommend it for children and adults alike. I loved it and so did my daughter. My daughter is aware that her paternal grandmother had to flee Austria and that some of her ancestors died in the holocaust, so books like this have a special significance for her. I am thrilled to learn that there are 2 sequels, The Other Way Round and A Small Person Far Away, which I am definitely going to read. Although this is a sombre subject, I was surprised at how uplifting this book was overall. Inevitably it does have some sad moments, but it is a positive reminder that you cannot easily crush the human spirit.
Summary: A wonderful book