The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Fleeing the Nazis and other tales
I LOVE The Tiger Who Came to Tea! I have such strong memories of stealing the book and accompanying tea set from my brother, and proceeding to break all the pieces and scrawl all over the book in crayon. What can I say, you can’t contain creativity. A couple of years ago, I found the whole set in Borders or Waterstones or somewhere (I squealed with delight, pretty loudly) and gave it to him to atone for my former sins. I have to admit, he wasn’t that bovvered. He is 31.
ANYWAY, another nice article from The Times on the author, Judith Kerr, now 84. She wrote the book 40 years ago, and it is being re-released on its anniversary. Kerr came to England aged 9, after she and her Jewish family fled Germany in 1933. A little excerpt or 3 after the jump:
Then, before the rest of the three million-selling Mog series, came the first of three autobiographical novels, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. This story of her Jewish family’s escape from Germany in 1933 and their life as evacuees, sharply understated in Kerr’s way, was acclaimed for explaining difficult truths to children, and Kerr found herself a bestseller again.
Kerr was 9 when she left Germany and for all that she now comes across as the most English of ladies, her background has inevitably left its mark. In her third novel, A Small Person Far Away, she writes of herself at the age of 28: “She had no wish to be thought even remotely German.” By this time she had lived briefly in Switzerland, in Paris, and for much of her life in London, where she was profoundly grateful for the kindness her family encountered. She had also distanced herself from Germany, largely by trying not to imagine what had happened there, but also through such devices as teaching herself to speak English with the clarity of a 1950s BBC announcer.
So her relationship with Germany remains ambivalent? “You can’t help it. Once – I think I was giving a lecture in Berlin – so my husband Tom said, ‘Why don’t we stay for a week?’ We did and, well, it was marvellous. We were together and I showed him all the places I’d been to and you always find these things that are just creepy. It was our local station, and I think my brother and I used to go there to write down the train numbers without having any idea of what we would do with them afterwards. So Tom and I went to this station, well the first thing we see is that it’s from this station that the Jews of Berlin were transported to Auschwitz. That is so, well, slimy, isn’t it?
“There were one and a half million children. In that sense this has been a very strong influence. You feel that if you made it and one and a half million didn’t, you’ve got to use your life. You can’t waste it because you think what might they not have done? What wouldn’t they have given just to have had a couple of months?”
Here’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea read out, Jackanory-style:
PS: One more wee bit – Judith Kerr on her bro:
Her father, Alfred Kerr, a widely acclaimed journalist (and an atheist) who was bold enough to criticise Hitler, had the prescience to escape from Berlin and insist that his family should follow: Kerr, with her mother and brother, left 24 hours before the Nazis arrived for their passports. “My mother was marvellous, got us out without any fear on our part. I had no idea it was dangerous, she was so protective. And of course it’s because she did that that I’m here now.”
Did pink rabbit, the much-loved toy left behind in Berlin, exist? “Oh yes. It’s eyes came out because my brother played with it. Bastard!”
See? I was righting an old wrong. Or something. Yeah.