Did the Nazis Almost Capture Curious George?

Today’s Wonder of the Day is centered around an adorable little creature who always manages to find himself in trouble. He possesses an incredibly inquisitive nature. Can you guess who we are referring to? Here’s another hint: he has a fondness for bananas. That’s correct! Today, we will delve into the world of Curious George!

Countless individuals are familiar with the mischievous monkey through the Curious George books, movies, and television shows. However, very few are acquainted with his creators. Let us uncover the story of how they brought one of the world’s most renowned monkeys to life…and how they evaded the clutches of the Nazis in the process!

Have you ever perused any of the “Curious George” books? If so, then you are aware that the authors are listed as H. A. Rey and Margret Rey. These names are pseudonyms for Hans Reyersbach and Margarete Waldstein. While both authors were born in Hamburg, Germany, they did not meet there. Instead, they encountered each other in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Hans was an artist who dabbled in sketching and painting while also selling bathtubs and plumbing fixtures. Margarete, on the other hand, worked as a photographer. In 1935, the two tied the knot and established an advertising agency. Margarete changed her name to “Margret,” and they both altered their surname to “Rey” since they believed it would be easier for Brazilians to pronounce.

The couple also acquired Brazilian citizenship. They thoroughly enjoyed their life in Rio de Janeiro, where they owned two marmoset monkeys as pets. When they embarked on their honeymoon voyage to Paris, they brought along these monkeys. Tragically, both animals passed away prior to their arrival in Europe.

While in Paris, the Reys commenced their journey of writing and illustrating children’s books. Their inspiration stemmed from their beloved pet monkeys from Brazil. Hans provided the illustrations, while Margret developed the stories. In 1939, they began crafting a tale about a young monkey who was perpetually getting into trouble. This story was titled “The Adventures of Fifi.”

As World War II erupted and the German army began invading and occupying various European countries, the Reys grew anxious while residing in Paris. In May 1940, German soldiers entered France. Countless Parisians fled the city, but the Reys, who were Jewish, were initially hesitant to leave. They almost waited too long, as by the time they decided to escape Paris, there were no cars or bicycles available in the city.

Hans scoured the area, purchasing every spare bicycle part he could find. Within a few days, he managed to assemble two bicycles. On the morning of June 12, 1940, the Reys fled Paris, carrying only a few belongings, including the manuscripts and drawings that would eventually become the first “Curious George” book. Merely two days later, German troops occupied the city.

With military planes soaring overhead, the Reys joined millions of other refugees on the journey south to seek safety. They sought shelter in farmhouses and stables, traveling by bike and catching trains whenever possible. Eventually, they made their way to Spain, then Portugal, and finally returned to Brazil.

In October 1940, the Reys set sail for New York City. They managed to find a publisher for their book, who suggested they change the name of their main character. Fifi was transformed into George, and “Curious George” was published in 1941.

In many ways, Curious George’s escapades mirror the struggles of his creators in evading the Nazis. He rides a bicycle, dreams of flying, and finds himself entangled in circumstances beyond his control.

George’s story became extremely popular among children in the 20th century. The adventures of the monkey inspired various forms of media such as books, movies, TV shows, plays, games, stuffed animals, and toys. Over 75 million copies of “Curious George” books have been sold worldwide in multiple languages.

In the video featured in today’s Wonder Gallery, Dr. Ruth Westheimer shares her own personal journey. Similar to the Reys, Dr. Ruth was Jewish and faced danger in her life. In the video clip, she recounts leaving her home and family in Nazi Germany as a young girl and traveling by train to a children’s home in Switzerland.

Despite facing immense hardships, Ruth made the choice to remain strong and brave. She is grateful to this day for being kept safe during such a challenging time. After the war, Ruth discovered that both of her parents had died in the Holocaust. At 17 years old, she emigrated to British Mandate Palestine, which is now known as Israel.

Currently residing in New York, Dr. Ruth is a well-known media personality, therapist, and author. She continues to preserve the memory of the Holocaust by sharing her story with future generations. Her story of survival is highlighted in her children’s book, “Roller Coaster Grandma: The Amazing Story of Dr. Ruth,” as well as an animated short film titled “Ruth: A Little Girl’s Big Journey.”

Have you ever read a “Curious George” book? Are you familiar with Dr. Ruth’s work? Do you have your own exciting idea for a children’s book? Now is the perfect time to start writing. We’re excited to see the grand adventure of your characters!

Preserving memories is an essential part of the human experience, and the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive contains over 55,000 testimonies from survivors and witnesses. These testimonies, in the form of audio and video recordings, educate future generations about the Holocaust and other atrocities. The foundation’s mission is to develop empathy, understanding, and respect through testimony so that the next generation understands the importance of learning from the Holocaust and working towards a better world. Many of these testimonies can be found on the IWitness platform, where recorded interviews are used to tell the stories of survivors and witnesses.

Try It Out:

Are you interested in learning more about Curious George? Make sure to explore the following activities with a friend or family member.

The video featured in today’s Wonder Gallery was provided by USC Shoah Foundation. We hope it made you think about the bravery and optimism displayed by the authors of the Curious George books and Dr. Ruth Westheimer as they escaped from the Nazis. While the Reys fled Paris on bicycles, Dr. Ruth escaped Germany on the Children’s Transport, also known as the Kindertransport. Can you recall a time when you embarked on a long journey? Did you encounter any difficulties? If so, how did you overcome them? Share your personal narrative or create a drawing depicting your own journey.

Were you aware that Curious George can be an educational tool? Go online and explore a wide range of Curious George STEM activities. Choose one or two to experiment with alongside an adult friend or family member. Enjoy the process of learning together!

Feeling up for a challenge? Write your own Curious George story. You’re likely familiar with the two main characters: George and the Man in the Yellow Hat. Feel free to introduce additional characters, including your own pets. What thrilling adventures will the characters embark on? Remember to illustrate your story and then share it with friends and family members.

Wonder Sources:

– https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/curious-george-daring-escape-nazis-180960779/ (accessed 15 July 2020)

– http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/13/books/how-curious-george-escaped-the-nazis.html (accessed 15 July 2020)

– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I64iQzRv8go (accessed 01 Dec. 2021)


1. Was Curious George a real monkey?

No, Curious George is not a real monkey. He is a fictional character created by authors H.A. Rey and Margret Rey. Curious George is a curious little monkey who gets into all sorts of adventures. He has become a beloved character in children’s literature since his first appearance in 1941.

2. Did the Nazis almost capture Curious George?

No, the Nazis did not almost capture Curious George because he is a fictional character. However, the creators of Curious George, H.A. Rey and Margret Rey, were real people who had a remarkable escape from the Nazis during World War II. They were Jewish and had to flee Paris, leaving behind their manuscripts and belongings. They managed to escape on bicycles and eventually made their way to the United States, where they continued to write and illustrate the adventures of Curious George.

3. Is there any connection between Curious George and the Nazis?

There is no direct connection between Curious George and the Nazis. However, the creators of Curious George, H.A. Rey and Margret Rey, were Jewish and had to flee Paris during the Nazi occupation. They had to leave behind their manuscripts and belongings, but they managed to escape and eventually made their way to the United States. Their experiences during World War II might have influenced their work, but the character of Curious George himself does not have any connection to the Nazis.

4. How did Curious George become popular?

Curious George became popular through the books created by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey. The first Curious George book was published in 1941 and introduced readers to the curious little monkey and his misadventures. The books were well-received and gained a wide audience among children and parents. Curious George’s charm and relatable curiosity resonated with readers, making him a beloved character in children’s literature. The popularity of the books led to various adaptations, including a television series and a feature film, further cementing Curious George’s place in popular culture.

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