Back in my first post, I talked about how over the summer I always like to really hone in on my reading – one because it is enjoyable to me, but two, it also allows me to spend some time exploring history and teaching in ways that I may not have the time to do during hectic term time. This summer, I have a mountain of books to get through, that I have been slowly accumulating whilst in lockdown, but the one I really wanted to get my teeth into was Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.
As an avid reader since I was a kid, I had always wanted to read this book after hearing about it but never brought myself to buy it or read it. I knew Judith Kerr from The Tiger Who Came to Tea fame, but never got round to reading it. This was especially shameful as I had worked at the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) and had not read it either.
It was on my list of books to read, i.e. in my Amazon wish list basket for years, especially after Judith Kerr had spoke at the Holocaust Educational Trust’s 2018 Ambassador Conference, and I couldn’t go because it was at the same time as the summer school for me to start my teacher training that September, so I had to take the time off. This was also the same Conference that Professor Deborah Lipstadt was speaking at, too!
So, to the actual book and away from that lengthy preamble.
To be short about it: I loved it.
I wasn’t surprised either. Judith Kerr is an eminent, well-known and well-respected author, I was hardly go to be bored with her writing. But what struck me was the simple, yet gently sophisticated style Kerr took in writing this story: a story of a Jewish family fleeing the Nazis in the very early days of Hitler’s rule.
The story telling dealt deftly with the issues of antisemitism that the family faced in Switzerland and France, the difficulty of being uprooted from a well-established and comfortable middle class life in Berlin to a life that was confusing and challenging, with many culture clashes and the loss of childhood innocence having to experience going through the experiences of being Jewish refugees in 1930’s Europe.
There were plenty of stand-out moments for me, from the concierge shock of the antisemitic hatred the family faced outside of Germany, showing just how deep-seated the hatred runs through European society and not exclusive to Germany at the time. But also, the line where Anna finally comes to the realisation and awareness that her and her family are refugees when they are again up-rooted from one place and move to another.
The book deals with these issues in such a sophisticated way that you often forget that you are reading a story about the persecution of Jews in the 1930s – whilst you read about experiences of antisemitism, it is not as explicit as other books many of us would have read. That comes down to the fact the story is set very early on in the history of Nazi state-sponsored antisemitism. Comparing the examples with that of other Jewish refugee stories, such as the early chapters in The Children of Willesden Lane, show just how stark and quick the shift was in terms of the level of persecution in only a few years.
However, it also provides an appreciation of the nuance, the permeation and the dangerous sophistication of antisemitism at the time. It was so deeply ingrained into society that in the story it presents as that lurking danger that is always following the family at each step of their journey – it isn’t always overtly around you, but it is still there.
Reading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit has given me a great perspective on how we use more literature of this type in our History lessons – in the Holocaust Scheme of Work I planned last academic year (to be delivered this coming academic year), I have included the Children of Willesden Lane, but as mentioned above, there is scope to use both texts to teach the changes seen during Nazi rule in the 1930s.
The book also provides with such powerful examples of the culture clash that immigrants and refugees face when moving to a new area, the section of the story which really stands out for me is when Anna is dealing with being in a rural Swiss village school compared to the metropolitan lifestyle she came from in Berlin. Working in a school with a very diverse community the examples used in the book will be helpful to use when teaching about migration or refugees in assemblies, lessons, drop-down days or around annual events, such as Refugee Week or Holocaust Memorial Day.
From being a book that I felt I had to read due to the shame of not reading it sooner to a book that has opened up my eyes to how we could use the book in our curriculum and also my understanding of the Holocaust, it is one book that I really recommend to others to get a copy of over the summer and immerse yourself in.