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Interviewing Judith Kerr

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and the publication of a commemorative hardback edition, I would like to share parts of my interview with Judith Kerr. I interviewed her on the 9th of October 2001, as part of an interview series in preparation for the Continental Britons exhibition at the Jewish Museum in London.

Among the 20 interviews I conducted then, the interview with Judith Kerr in her home in Barnes was a personal highlight. Having read her autobiographical trilogy Out of the Hitler Time (1971-78) as a young teenager, which consisted of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Bombs on Aunt Dainty, and A Small Person Far Away, I felt it was an enormous privilege to be able to talk to Judith Kerr face-to-face. After the interview, she inscribed my original German copy, called ‘Warten bis der Frieden kommt’(Bombs on Aunt Dainty in English) , which I had read as a 12 year-old, saying ‘Dear Bea, thank you for an interesting and sensitive interview’, which I kept as a treasured memento from the interview.

I am very pleased that twenty years later, this interviews alongside 11 other interviews with German and Austrian refugees will be published in December 2021.

I remember vividly what she told about the creation of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and the other two books in her autobiographical series ‘Out of Hitler Time’ and how writing these books changed her life:

When my children were old enough to ask about what it was like when I was little, it always bothered me that it had been so different. It's very strange. You have children and the first thing you think is: now, how do I do this? What did we do when I was little? I was totally different. I didn't know any English nursery rhymes when I was small. It's strange. I was awfully glad when they got to the age which I'd been when I was living in England, because at least by then it was more similar. They wanted to know what it was like, so I wrote this book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. I think it was for my husband as much as the children, because when you are very happily married, as I am, you don't want too many things in your life that your husband doesn't really understand. I think I wanted him to know what it was like as much as telling the children exactly.
Then I wrote the other two books. I wasn't going to at first… I wasn't sure that I could even write about the later bits, which were much more painful. Then I thought, well, being a refugee wasn't all easy, and it seemed more truthful to write the other two, I was never going to do just one. I always thought, if I write any more, I'll just write the two. Then I'd really said all I had to say. I went back to doing picture books, drawing, which I love.
Did it change your life writing those books?
I think it exorcised a lot, I think it did. One thing when I was writing them was that I hadn't really thought, until I wrote the first one, what it must have been like for my parents. I knew, of course, how difficult it had been for them, but once I had children of my own, I thought, suppose I had to get my children out of the country across the frontier, how well would I do? How would I cope with what they had to cope with? Probably not as well. You never think about your parents really, not really. I mean, you think about them, but you don't put yourself in their place until you're much older, I think.

See more excerpts from my interview with Judith:

How being a refugee shaped Judith Kerr's life:

How writing the trilogy changed her life:

Writing the second and third books of the trilogy:

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1 Comment

Oct 01, 2021

Wonderful to hear her speak about this, Joe’s music and Malcolm playing X

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