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


For Magie Furst and her family, the lifeline to safety and freedom came through the Upstanders of Great Britain

Magie Furst

Magie Furst


The Museum’s current exhibit, A History of the Kindertransport, now through Feb. 28, features the story of Dallas resident Magie Furst and her brother, Bert, who were both saved through the British rescue operation. On Feb. 2, Magie told her story to a standing-room only crowd of 140 Museum members and visitors. This is the story she told.

In 1932, Alfred and Sida Romberg were proud parents of a daughter and son born just a year apart, living a wonderful life in the small German village of Astheim, near Nuremburg, where they owned a general merchandise store.

But a year later, following the appointment of Adolph Hitler as German Chancellor, the Romberg’s tranquil life became a nightmare. Before 1934 came to an end, Alfred Romberg was dead—a heart attack brought on by stress from aggressive perpetrators.

The Rombergs were upstanding citizens once beloved by the entire village. But all that changed when Hitler’s Nazi party came to power. The Rombergs were Jewish.

Following Alfred’s death, Sida Romberg was left alone to raise 5-year-old Magie and 4-year-old Bert. When the anti-Semitism worsened, Sida was forced to sell the store for a fraction of its value and moved the children to the larger town of Eshwege, Germany, where other family resided.

The years in Eshwege were brutal, recalled Magie, now 84.

“Those were bad years, because Hitler was in full force already. We had restrictions on going to school. We went to an all Jewish school until some of the teachers emigrated. And then after Kristallnacht (Nov. 9-10, 1938), we didn’t have school anymore…the Hitler youth, they went after us whenever we went out.

“I remember we went out to get a loaf of bread, and they took the loaf right out of my hand. They wanted to smash it on my brother’s head, but I stood in front of him, so I got the beating instead. I must have been eight years old.”

Following Kristallnacht— a series of coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria, carried out by SA paramilitary forces and non-Jewish civilians (the German authorities looked on without intervening)—Sida Romberg knew her children had no future in Germany and set out to find visas for them to leave Germany. At the time, Germany was still issuing visas to Jews and others who could prove they had relatives or a sponsoring organization in another country.

When her mother learned of the Kindertransport program, a rescue mission that took place during the nine months prior to the outbreak of the WWII, she seized the opportunity to send her daughter and son to the United Kingdom, which took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Free City of Danzig. Children of the Kindertransport were placed in British foster homes, hostels, schools and farms.

In an extraordinary stroke of good fortune, Sida Romberg received permission to work as a domestic servant in England.  The three of them prepared to leave for England together.

Saying goodbye to her grandmother, Magie said, was one of the most painful moments of her life. Her grandmother had been a source of stability and comfort, following the sudden death of Magie’s father, Alfred. Tragically, the Nazis would eventually remove her grandmother from a home for the elderly and deport her to Auschwitz, where she was murdered.

On May 23, 1939, Sida Romberg and her two children arrived in England, but once there were separated as Sida did not earn enough to support herself and her children.

Bert was placed with a wonderful family. Magie did not fare so well. “I became a cheap maid in a family headed by an abusive man,” she said. After a month of suffering, Magie was sent to an orphanage to live.

While the war years in England were tough, Magie said she, Bert and her mother were eternally grateful to the people of Great Britain. “They opened their hearts and homes to us when no other country—not even the United States—would do so,” she said.

Sida Romberg never gave up hope for reuniting the family, and in April, 1945, just a month before the formal end of WWII, the three Rombergs received visas to emigrate to the U.S.

“There is no country like the United States in this world,” Magie said.

Settling in the New York City metro area, the Rombergs thrived. Eventually, Magie would marry and accompany her husband in 1963 to the Dallas area. Three years later, Bert also moved to Dallas after receiving a great job opportunity. Wishing to be near the children she sought so valiantly to protect, Sida Romberg also made the move to Texas.

As she reflects on her rare experience as a rescued child of the Kindertransport, Magie is grateful for being spared the horrors of war even though the separation from loved ones was difficult. And, she feels obligated to share her story as a regular speaker before student groups—sometimes three and four times a week—who visit the Museum.

“We are supposed to be our brother’s keeper,” she said. “We need to make sure that children of the future never have to endure what my generation did.”

“A History of the Kinderstransport” exhibit is made possible by the generosity of Ann Donald Zetley & Florence and Howard Shapiro in Loving Memory of Martin Donald.

–Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum








Sign of the Times: Museum’s New Herald Historically Proportioned

The new sign at the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

The Museum has installed a new sign on the Pacific Street/DART side of the building at 211 N. Record Street. The 16-foot long sign (and 16 inches tall) meets the exacting historical proportions required by Dallas city ordinances governing the West End Historic District. The sign, which uses high performance cast vinyl lettering, provides new and needed visibility for Museum visitors who park in adjacent parking lots. The sign took months of planning and one day to install.

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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