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The creators of Curious George escaped from Paris hours before it fell to the Nazis

Goran Blazeski

Who doesn’t love that mischievous monkey, Curious George? Published over 70 years ago, the Curious George children’s books still entertain children today. But not many people know the story behind his very first adventure – escape from Nazi Germany.

The creators of Curious George, Hans and Margret Ray, managed to escape from Paris just hours before it fell to the Nazis.

At first, Margret and Hans went to spend their honeymoon in Paris, but they ended up staying there for four years. On June 14, 1940, the German army entered and occupied Paris. Just a few hours earlier the Jewish couple left Paris on homemade bicycles. They saved not only their lives they also saved the career of the fictional monkey , whom the two created together.

Both of them were born in Hamburg Germany. Hans Augusto Rey September 16, 1898, and Margret Rey May 16, 1906. They first met in Hamburg, and then again in Rio de Janeiro, where Hans was selling bathtubs and Margret was working as a photographer.

They married in 1935 and sailed to Europe for a honeymoon with their two pet monkeys. The monkeys died during the journey, but Hans and Margret enjoyed Paris so much that they decided to stay.

The Reys. Source:
The Reys.

Paris in June 1940 wasn’t as comfortable as before and the Jewish couple had to leave; they were amongst the millions of refugees trying to escape from the Nazis. There were no more trains and they didn’t own a car, so Hans went to a bicycle store and the only thing left there was a tandem bike. Margret didn’t like it, so that same night, Hans somehow made two separate bicycles from spare parts. They took some clothes, and more importantly, their life’s work – unpublished manuscripts of children’s books, including one particularly special book – Fifi: The Adventures of  a Monkey.

Joining five million other refugees, they slept in barns and on floors of restaurants. Finally, after four days of biking, they reached the Spanish border where they bought train tickets to Lisbon. They had Brazilian passports so they were able to acquire visas to leave Europe, and sailed to Rio.

H. A. Rey reading to children in the early 1970s. Source: Photo Credit
H. A. Rey reading to children in the early 1970s. Photo Credit

They eventually arrived in New York, and one year later Fifi: The Adventures of  a Monkey was published under a new name: Curious George. The American publisher decided that “Fifi” was no name for a male hero.

The Reys wrote a total of eight “Curious George” books. Houghton Mifflin had published the first of the George books. In it, the little ape is found in an African jungle by the hunter known only as “The Man with the Yellow Hat.” The Man brings George to a zoo in “the big city.” After the animal escapes several times, the Man decides to take him into his own home.

The White House 2003 Christmas decoration using Curious George as the theme with the Barbara Bush portrait.
The White House 2003 Christmas decoration using Curious George as the theme with the Barbara Bush portrait.

Over the years, the books have sold more than 27 million copies worldwide. They have been turned into TV series and animated films.

The Reys continued writing children’s books for the rest of their lives and they managed to make Curious George a true global brand. 

Goran Blazeski

Goran Blazeski is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News