Book review

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr (1971)

Have you ever lain in bed at night and wondered how it would be if the very worst thing actually happened? Perhaps you can imagine losing your home through flood, earthquake or war? Whatever the problem is, you can almost believe that you might be able to cope, so long as you have all your important family with you and a suitcase with a few special possessions.

That's what really happened to Anna in this book. It is 1933 and Anna is nine years old. But while she is busy with school life, Hitler is about to be elected to office by the German people. Hitler is going to stop the Jews, whatever that means. Of course, in 1933 no-one ever imagined in their wildest dreams that he might actually try to murder them all. But Anna's father is a well-known Jewish writer, and someone warns him, just in time, that his passport might soon be taken away from him. So he packs his suitcase and leaves for Switzerland on the train in the middle of the night. That is alarming enough for Anna and her brother and mother who are left behind in Berlin. When will Anna see her father again?

She sees him sooner than she expects, because he sends for them to come and join him in Switzerland, just the day before the German elections. It is the right decision. When Hitler sweeps to power one of his first acts is to confiscate all the family's property in Berlin. And so, they are refugees in Switzerland, with no way back home, even if they wanted it, and they would not want it.

It isn't easy being a refugee. Three times Anna and her family try to settle in a different country. From Switzerland they soon move to France, and eventually they have to move from France and try their luck in England. Times are very hard and it is difficult for her father to earn a living as a writer. In Berlin the family lived comfortably, but now they struggle on the very edge of poverty. Anna's parents are trying to find a way to make a living, but for Anna and her brother Max, the challenge is always the same one. How to settle in a new school, perhaps not knowing any of the language at all:

The next lesson was dictation. Anna recognised the word because once or twice Mademoiselle Martel had dictated a few simple words to her and Max. But this was a very different matter. There were long sentences and Anna had no idea what any of them meant. She did not know where one sentence ended and another began - not even where one word ended and another began. It seemed hopeless to embark on it - but it would look even worse if she just sat without writing at all. So she did what she could to translate the incomprehensible sounds into letters arranged in what seemed like possible groups. After she had covered most of a page in this strange manner the dictation came to an end, the books were collected, a bell rang and it was time for break.

For Anna, the one thing which does make it bearable is that they are all together. So long as they all stay together, it doesn't really feel as though she has lost everything, and she can even get on and enjoy the challenges which her new life present her with.

This is a lovely book, for Anna is a happy child despite her difficult circumstances. Life, it seems, goes on even when you are a refugee, and quite often, you can see the funny side of it.

What can I read next?

If you enjoy this book, you could have a look at these two which continue the account of Anna's life as a refugee in England. A gentle introduction to the Second World War.

  • Bombs on Aunt Daisy
  • A Small Person Far Away

Refugees are a big topic. If you are interested, you might like to look at this book by Gaye Hicyilmaz;

Not about refugees, but I think you might quite enjoy anything by Michael Morpurgo. Have a look at these:

One more suggestion. I think you might enjoy this story by Nina Bawden:

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