How Curious George Escaped the Nazis

showposterChildren’s author Louise Borden was, well, curious.

In 1995, while reading Publisher’s Weekly, the trade magazine of the book industry, Ms. Borden ran across an item about Margret Rey, the writer and illustrator known best for the Curious George series of children’s picture books that she and her husband, H.A. Rey, created from 1939 to 1966.

The short item noted how the Reys had escaped Paris in 1940, just ahead of the Nazi invasion of France, on bicycles and carrying a backpack with the manuscript of what would become the impetus for the first Curious George book.

The notice stirred the curiosity of Ms. Borden.

Had the Reys’ escape from wartime France ever been written about before? What route had the Reys followed to make their getaway? How did the Reys eventually end up publishing their series of books with one of the leading publishers in the U.S.?

So begins the story of author Louise Borden’s journey that concluded with the 2005 publication of The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey (now available in paperback from HMH Books for Young Readers), which chronicles the real-life escape of the Reys.

The book is the basis of the Dallas Holocaust Museum’s current special exhibit, “The Wartime Escape Margret & H.A. Rey’s Journey from France,” now through June 20th. Admission to the special exhibit is free with regular paid admission to the Museum.*

Ms. Borden was the special guest speaker on Feb. 12 at the opening reception for the new exhibit.

“I love the world of children’s books, and I loved telling this story,” Ms. Borden told a crowd of about 85 people who attended her presentation in the Museum Theater.

Curious George first appeared in 1941, published by Houghton Mifflin. The book begins with George living in Africa and tells the story of his capture by the Man with the Yellow Hat, who takes him on a ship to “the big city” where he will live in the zoo. Six other “original series” titles followed, and today, the books, which include more modern story lines, have sold more than 30 million copies in multiple languages.

The Reys were German-born Jews who most assuredly would have been captured by Nazis and deported to concentration or death camps.

In her presentation, Ms. Borden traced the Reys escape from Paris, through Spain, to Portugal, to Argentina and eventually to New York City, where the Reys lived in Greenwich Village to be close to their publisher and, later, following huge success with the Curious George book line, in Cambridge, MA near Harvard Square and at a charming New Hampshire farm.

Most of the research for the book on the couple’s wartime escape took place at the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. When Margret Rey died in 1996 (Hans had died in 1977), her will designated that the entire literary estate of the Reys be donated to the de Grummond Collection. In 1966, Dr. Lena Y. de Grummond, a professor in the field of library science at USM, had contacted Mrs. Rey about the university’s new children’s literature collection and, well, the rest is history.

Many fascinating angles emerged from her research, Ms. Borden said, including the fact that Curious George had first been named “Fifi. In 1939, the Reys had signed a contract with the French publisher Gallimard for “Fifi” and other stories. As it turned out, the cash advance the couple had received would later finance their escape to South America.

In October 1940, the Reys sailed to New York, settling first on Long Island with relatives before moving to Manhattan. A year later, the book about “Fifi,” who had been renamed “George”—the publishers thought it a more appropriate name for a male monkey—first appeared.

“George was a name that would become memorable for generations to come,” Ms. Borden said. And so it remains.

Several activities for families are planned in conjunction with the special exhibit, among them:

-Get Curious at the Dallas Zoo, Feb. 22, 2015, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

-Spring Break with Curious George at the Museum, March 9-13, 11 a.m.

-Get Curious at Klyde Warren Park, Sunday, May 3, 2 p.m.

-Art Competition for Student Groups: Reception & Judging, May 10, 10 a.m.

A special Teacher’s Workshop is also planned for March 12. More information on the workshop may be found on the Museum website.

The Benefactor Sponsor for the event is Fox Rothschild LLP. The Friend Sponsor is the Janis Levine Music Women and Children’s Endowment Fund of the Dallas Jewish Community Federation. Community Partners include the Dallas Zoo, Klyde Warren Park and the Dallas Theater Center.

This project is supported in part by an award from Mid-America Arts Alliance, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Texas Commission on the Arts, and foundations, corporations and individuals throughout Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.

 *Please note that the Museum’s core exhibit is recommended for children age 11 and older.

–Chris Kelley for the Dallas Holocaust Museum


The Answer: Yes. The Question: “Do Words Kill?” Genocide Prevention Begins With Confronting Dangerous Speech, Expert Says

FiresofhateFree speech is one thing. Dangerous speech is another, an expert in hate speech told a large crowd gathered at the Museum on Oct. 7 to hear the presentation, “Do Words Kill? Hate Speech, Propaganda and Incitement to Genocide.”

There are warning signs to listen for when it comes to dangerous speech, which can ultimately lead to genocide if not confronted, said Dr. Elizabeth White, Research Director for the Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

  • Dehumanizing the target group through speech.
  • Accusing the target group of plotting harm to the larger population.
  • Presenting the target group as a grave threat.

The speaker, the medium of dissemination of the dangerous speech, the socio-historical context and the audience willingness to hear the dangerous message are factors contributing to whether threatening speech takes hold, she said.

“Part of what makes speech dangerous is…when we are confronted by information that is contrary to our beliefs, we reject that information and the presenter of it,” she said.

Effective counter speech is the means to stall and eventually diminish the effectiveness of dangerous speech, Dr. White said. Recent applications of counter speech through effective text messaging have helped calm tensions and possibly prevent violence among groups in some African countries, she said.

Dr. White’s lecture was held in conjunction with the Museum’s newest special exhibit, “Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings,” now through Oct. 15. The special exhibit is free with paid admission.

Prior to her Museum appointment in 2012, Dr. White served at the U.S. Department of Justice as the Chief Historian and Deputy Director of the Office of Special Investigations and, most recently, as Deputy Chief and Chief Historian of the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section.

In both positions, she directed research to develop and support civil and criminal cases against the perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, Nazi persecution and other human rights violations. She also contributed to interagency efforts to deny safe haven to human rights violators in the U.S. and to develop effective strategies for preventing and responding to genocide and mass atrocity.

Dr. White has a Ph.D. in History from the University of Virginia and is the author of German Influence in the Argentine Army, 1900-1945 (Garland, 1991), as well as numerous articles and papers pertaining to the Holocaust, postwar use of Nazi criminals by U.S. intelligence, and U.S. Government efforts to investigate and prosecute Nazi persecutors.

“Fighting the Fires of Hate” special exhibit is made possible by the Museum’s Presenting Sponsors, Joanne and Charles Teichman/YLANG 23 and Louise and Gigi Gartner. The exhibition was underwritten in part by grants from the Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund and the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, with additional support from the Lester Robbins and Shelia Johnson Robbins travelling and Special Exhibitions Fund.

We hope you will join us for two additional special presentations this Fall.

On Nov. 3, at 3 p.m. in the Museum Theater, Juliana Taimoorazy, Founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Fund, will make a special presentation, “The Plight of the Christians in Iraq.” Ms. Taimoorazy will discuss the history and current situation involving Christian monitories in the region. A Q & A will follow.

On Dec. 4, at 6:30 p.m. in the Museum Theater, Harry Wu, a survivor of Chinese labor camps, will discuss his experiences and his memoir, Bitter Winds (Wiley, 2007) as part of the Museum’s Upstander Speaker Series. Mr. Wu will discuss state sponsored terror and torture and what the public can do about it. Admission is $10 for non-members, $5 for students with ID.

–Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum


Besa: Perhaps the Last Great Untold Story of World War II; Now on Exhibit

"Besa: A Code of Honor" exhibit tells the story of how Muslim Albanians rescued Jews during World War II

“Besa: A Code of Honor” exhibit tells the story of how Muslim Albanians rescued Jews during World War II


Seventy-five years ago, when the Nazis began their murderous takeover of Eastern Europe, Jews by the hundreds began relocating into what is now the Republic of Albania, seeking protection.

One of the poorest countries in Southeastern Europe, Albania, where nearly two-thirds of the population adheres to Islam, seemed one of the least likely places for Jews to seek refuge.

Prior to World War II only about 200 Albanians were Jewish. At the end of the war, about 2,000 Jews called Albania home.

Besa is the reason why.

Besa is an Albanian cultural precept, usually translated as “faith,” that means “to keep the promise” and “word of honor” and descends from the Kanun, a collection of laws which regulate Albanian social, economic and religious lives, together with traditional customs and cultural practices of the Albanian society that originated in the year 1400. Besa is an important part of personal and familial standing and is often used as an example of “Albanianism.”

Besa is the subject of a new exhibit at the Museum, “BESA: A Code of Honor,” which tells the story of the Muslim families of Albania who rescued Jews during World War II through the incredible photography of American Norman H. Gershman.

At the opening reception of the new exhibit on March 13 at the Museum, the award-winning film documentary, Besa: The Promise (2012), was screened before a standing-room only crowd at the Museum. The screening was preceded by a marvelous reception catered by the Albanian-American Cultural Center.

The documentary tells the story of the incredible courage of Albanians during World War II through the contemporary journeys of Gershman, who is urgently striving to document the lives of Jewish rescuers before they die, and a shop owner named Rexhep Hoxha, who is desperately trying to return a set of Hebrew prayer books to the survivor his family protected some 60 years earlier during Nazi occupation.

The journeys of the two men intersect at a highly emotional and impactful crossroads as the cameras roll, making the documentary’s ending reveal “a story like no other,” in the words of one reviewer.

On March 23, the Museum will present a matinee screening of the film at 2 p.m. at the Museum Theater. Admission is $5 and RSVPs are required at RSVP@DallasHolocaustMuseum.come. The public is invited.

Rather than hiding the Jews in attics or woods, Albanians brought them into their homes, gave them Albanian names and treated them as part of the family, noted Mary Pat Higgins, Museum President and CEO.

“My father never talked about what he did for the Jews,” one Albanian shop keeper said in the documentary. “He thought it was normal.”

So warm was the welcome for the Jews, said another woman in the film, that her parents used to say, “We don’t know any Jews. We only know Albanians.”

Said Mary Pat: “In a time when religion continues to serve as a divisive force in the world, we are honored to tell the story of these Upstanders, who saw beyond religious difference and chose to act, based on their ethics—Besa—to do what was right and defy Nazi orders. This is history that moves us forward.”

Doc Vranici, Executive Director of the Albanian American Cultural Center, thanked the Museum for hosting the exhibit and for helping share a piece of hidden history of Albania—that Muslims saved Jews during World War II.

Bordered by Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, Macedonia to the east, and Greece to the south and southeast, Albania became a Communist country, following WW II where religion expression of any kind was punishable by lengthy prison terms. As part of the fall of Eastern bloc Communism in the late 1980s, Albania became a democratic Republic in 1991.

However, the effects of the transition from a centralized economy in a rigid communist state to a free market economy in a democratic republic have weighed heavily on Albania’s people, and particularly on its poor people. Despite the economy’s robust growth in recent years, almost one quarter of the population lives below the poverty level of $2 (U.S.) a day.

Albanians treatment of Jews during World War II proves “that there are far more good people in the world than bad,” Gershman said. “This little country—they have something to teach the world.”

The Presenting Sponsor of the new Museum exhibit, “BESA: A Code of Honor,” is the Carl B. & Florence E. King Foundation. Community Partners include the Albanian-American Cultural Center, Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Congregation Beth Torah. Running through June 18, the exhibit is free with admission. More information at

-Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

THGC Announces Video Contest for High School Students

As part of the commemoration of Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month in April 2014, the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission is hosting a video competition open to all Texas students in grades 6-12.  Themed “I Was a Bystander,” the goal of the contest is to encourage students to self-reflect about times when they stayed silent in the face of hurtful behavior and think about what they might do in similar situations in the future.

Students will create a short video, 1 to 2 ½  minutes, that will be judged on relevance to the mission of the THGC and on this year’s theme, originality, creativity, technical achievement, and emergence of an upstanding message or vision. Results will be announced in April, and the winners and their teachers will be invited to receive their prizes at the THGC Quarterly Meeting on July 18 in Austin.

Three winners from grades 6-8 and three winners from grades 9-12 will each be awarded a scholarship: the Gold Key worth $375 for first place, the Silver Key worth $200 for second, and the Bronze Key worth $125 for third. The schoolteachers of Gold Key winners will receive $100 for class supplies.

The 2014 Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month Video Contest scholarship prizes are generously underwritten by Dr. Kelli Cohen Fein and Martin Fein of Houston and by Fran and Mark Berg of Dallas.

For complete details on the video competition, visit the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission website.



Anne Frank Curriculum Trunks: A Middle School Teacher’s Dream in a Box

The Anne Frank: A Private Photo Album exhibit which opened on December 1, 2012 at the Dallas Holocaust Museum will close on March 31, 2013.  In the three months that Anne Frank was with us—and it did feel as if the impishly wise thirteen-year-old was truly with us—more than 22,000 visitors toured the Museum.

Anne Frank is one of the most recognized faces in the world and as author of one of the most read books–which is a compilation of entries into her personal journals and diary–she draws attention.  We offered visitors opportunities to write their thoughts and feelings in journals which we made available in the exhibit gallery.  As you can guess, most of the entries were from children like Jade, whose entry read:

February 19, 2013

Dear Anne,

Even though you are not here anymore, I want you to know how big of an inspiration [you are] to us kids.  When I started reading your diary (I hope you don’t mind my reading it)… it inspired me, too.  Thank you so much.  Jade.

As the closing looms, there are now more than 25 journals full of entries.  The power of Anne Frank to feather a child’s mind and lead them to a rudimentary understanding of the world’s greatest display of inhumanity, inspired DHM/CET to create its first curriculum trunks.

The Anne Frank curriculum trunks provide teachers with tools to enhance the richness of their programs and lessons to foster creativity and discussion in the classroom. Some of the contents are specifically related to the “Anne Frank: A Private Photo Album” temporary exhibit, such as the teacher guide to the exhibit. However, there are also two graphic novels based on Anne’s story, three DVDs, and a number of books, all selected by our Education Department to inspire the students relate to Anne’s story in new ways. Of course, the trunks also come with a copy of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl for each student in the class.

Anne Frank Trunk

The Dallas Holocaust Museum’s Anne Frank Curriculum Trunk which is loaned free to DFW area schools.


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