When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit Summary

Judith Kerr

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

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When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit Summary

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The children’s novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, by Judith Kerr, is the first in a trilogy based on the author’s experience during WWII. Kerr wrote and illustrated the book to explain her own history to her children. Kerr is of German-Jewish heritage, and her family left Germany once Hitler rose to power in 1933. Her father was the prominent cultural critic Alfred Kerr. The family traveled around Europe for several years before settling in London, where Kerr completed middle and high school. This coming of age novel was published in 1971. It won Germany’s top prize for children’s fiction in 1974. Its themes include survival, politics’ incursion on domestic life, and the challenges of growing up.

The novel opens with the nine-year-old protagonist, Anna, walking around Berlin with her good friend Elsbeth. It is a few months before March 1933, and Adolf Hitler is running for Chancellor of Germany. The girls see fliers for his campaign around town. They discuss his pledge to ban Jews from Germany. Anna has never thought about Judaism in-depth, but she tells Elsbeth that she’s technically Jewish because of her mother. Elsbeth, who is not Jewish, says the whole thing is silly and wants it to go away. One morning, Anna’s father is missing. The children hear that their father has sought refuge in Prague, Austria, along with Anna’s older brother Max. Anna’s father is a famous author and journalist who has published criticism of Hitler’s party. He predicts that if Hitler comes to power, he will be instantly imprisoned and possibly killed; he has also received tips from creditable sources that the Nazis would like nothing more than to see him dead. If Hitler’s party loses, Anna’s father will return to Berlin; if Hitler wins, then the family will go into exile in Switzerland.

As the election closes in, Hitler’s prospects look good. The Reichstag building (the German equivalent of Congress) has burned down. The Nazis may have burned the building themselves in order to blame the Communists and justify their own attempts to assume more power. The family knows that Hitler will use his new powers to harm them, and they decide to take the preemptory measure of leaving the country, of escaping immediately. They pack all of their belongings and place them into storage. The children say goodbye to their Uncle Julius, who insists on staying in Germany because he believes that the Nazis will not last; he also does not think he is in danger because he had a Jewish grandmother, but not Jewish parents.

The children can only bring a limited number of items as they travel. Anna can only bring one stuffed animal with her, and must choose between a pink rabbit and a fluffy dog that was more expensive and is newer. She chooses the dog, and for some time, doesn’t miss her pink rabbit much. She is certain that Hitler will lose, the family will return to Berlin, and Anna will be reunited with her precious toy. The family stays in a bed and breakfast on Lake Zurich in Switzerland for almost a year. Anna learns to yodel, and Max experiences his first major crush on a village girl. The family is safe and relaxed; indeed, the only time they experience anti-Semitism is when they encounter German tourists. Through newspapers and the radio they hear that Hitler’s party has won several votes of confidence, and is now more powerful than ever before. They also learn the Nazis appeared at their Berlin residence to confiscate their passports and bar them from leaving the country. The family had left just in time.

The parents decide that the family would be happier in Paris. Papa can’t find much work as a journalist, as the Swiss want to remain neutral and not antagonize their neighbor to the north. Papa and Mama travel to the French capital while Max and Anna stay in Switzerland. Meanwhile, the Nazis have offered a reward of one thousand marks to anyone who can turn in Papa, dead or alive. By current standards, one thousand marks is the equivalent of eleven thousand U.S. dollars. Papa returns to Switzerland safely. Anna had misunderstood the meaning of “marks on his head.” She was under the impression that if he were captured, her father would have coins thrown on his head, so many that the Nazis would eventually suffocate him. Max explains to her the real meaning of the idiom. The three family members travel back to Paris. They nearly end up on the wrong train, to Berlin, but in the last second, Anna sees a sign and they are rerouted to Paris.

In Paris, Anna starts school. She struggles with speaking French initially, but one day she’s overjoyed to realize that she understands its concepts and can speak it fluently. The family enjoys life in Paris. Anna’s mother often buys Anna pastries and eclairs as a treat, even when the family can’t buy fish for dinner. Two years pass, and the family decides to move to London. It’s 1936, and Papa thinks he can find suitable work with the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). While Anna and Max are young enough to easily master a new language, their father – who had achieved immense prominence in the German language – has been struggling with work. In the last scene, the family alights from a train in England. They’re going to meet Otto, Mama’s cousin.

The next book in the Out of the Hitler Time trilogy is Bombs on Aunt Dainty (1975), which details Anna’s experience in London during WWII. The series concludes with A Small Person Far Away (1978), in which Anna, now a young woman and married, visits her mother, who has moved back to Berlin.