[expositie] Judith Kerr – Girld holding a suitcase

Judith Kerr: Girl holding a suitcase (in When Hitler stoler pink rabbit)
by Emilie Sitzia

Judith Kerr was born in Berlin in 1923, but fled from her hometown only nine years later in 1933 due to the rise of Hitler. Kerr’s family was Jewish, and her father was an early critic of the Nazi party. The family settled in England in 1936 after passing through Switzerland and France. Kerr’s childhood was marked by constant upheaval, after fleeing for her life and being raised in impoverished conditions. Despite this, Kerr always reflected warmly on her upbringing. Kerr attended eleven different schools, during WWII she worked for the Red Cross, and in 1945, Kerr won a scholarship to the Central School of Arts and Crafts. Kerr’s expansive career not only included her art, but also her writing of both children’s books and novels. 

Kerr’s first book The Tiger that Came to Tea (1968) became a bestseller, followed by many other children’s books including her famous series Mog the Forgetful Cat (1970), which she wrote to amuse her own children. Her books depicting a stable British family contrast with her tumultuous childhood. These light, joyful, and playful books feature her colorful and imaginative characters. Kerr originally worked in ink, but eventually switched to crayons and colored pencils due to their ability to be rubbed out. Kerr also wrote a trilogy of lesser-known autobiographical novels called Out of the Hitler Time about her experience fleeing from Nazi Germany, written from the perspective of a nine-year-old girl. While Kerr’s children’s books contributed to entertaining and creating joy in the children, Kerr’s novels tell an important perspective of the world told by a German-Jewish refugee during WWII that demands to be heard. Her illustrations for When Hitler stole pink rabbit in particular translate in realistic black and white vignettes the daily life of a child refugee fleeing the war. She compels her audience to care for that refugee child that was her.