[expositie] Judith Kerr – Girl with a Suitcase

Judith Kerr: Girl with a Suitcase (in When Hitler Stole 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, worked for the Red Cross during WWII and, in 1945, 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 who 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 colorful and imaginative characters. Kerr originally worked in ink, but eventually switched to crayons and colored pencils due to their ability to be blended. 

Kerr also wrote a trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels called Out of the Hitler Time. The first book is called When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and is about her experience fleeing from Nazi Germany, written from the perspective of a nine-year-old girl. Kerr’s novels tell an important perspective of the world told by a German-Jewish refugee during WII that demands to be heard. Her illustrations for When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit in particular translate the daily life of a child refugee fleeing the war in black and white vignettes. She compels the audience to care for the refugee child. Kerr’s children’s books are powerful, important and have brought entertainment and joy to children for over 50 years.