Curious George Escaped the Nazi Invasion

The creators of Curious George will have an exhibit honoring their work at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center

By Aixa Velez
|  Thursday, Mar 25, 2010  |  Updated 12:30 PM CDT
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The Jewish Museum

H. A. Rey, final illustration for “This is George. He lived in Africa,” published in The Original Curious George (1998), France, 1939–40, watercolor, charcoal, and color pencil on paper. H. A. & Margret Rey Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi.

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The mischievous traveling monkey that became a childhood favorite, Curious George, might never have become an American curiosity had it not been for the Nazi invasion of France.

His creators escaped oppression, and he eventually became an icon.

Now the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie is honoring thier achievement in a new exhibit that shares the story of the husband-and-wife creators of the “good little monkey,” reports the Sun-Times

H.A. and Margret Reys were German Jews living in Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion. During their five-month escape in 1940, they fled on bicycles with their drawings, including one of a mischievous monkey then called Fifi.

"If the Reys had not escaped from France by bicycle to Spain to Portugal, we would have never known Curious George," said Noreen Brand, the Skokie museum's director of education, reported the Sun-Times.

The Reys created the monkey character that is always on the run because it represented themselves always on the run.

Fifi’s name was later changed to George once the couple arrived in the U.S. because publisher Houghton Mifflin had doubts about the name Fifi for a boy monkey. The Reys have sold tens of millions of copies around the world.

The exhibit, titled "The Wartime Escape: Margret and H.A. Rey's Journey from France," is based on a 2005 children's book by Louise Borden about the Reys.  The display will show Allan Drummond's original illustrations of Borden's book explaining the couple's story.

The exhibit runs through June 20.

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