Tributes to the late children’s author and illustrator Judith Kerr have flooded in after she passed away on Wednesday aged 95.
Kerr, who authored The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the Mog series, fled Nazi Germany with her family and later helped generations of children understand her experience in the 1971 book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, part of a trilogy.
Born in Berlin in 1923, her father was a theatre critic and newspaper columnist, and her mother was a talented composer, and the family was firmly part of the city’s intelligentsia.
But her father was well-known both as a Jew and as an outspoken critic of the Nazis, so when the party took power in 1933, he fled to Switzerland and then France, before settling in England.
One of her last interviews was given to Jewish News, and is featured in full in next week’s Life magazine. In it she describes how she almost gave up on writing When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, finding it “incredibly difficult,” but was urged to persevere by her husband Nigel. The book begins: “Suppose your country began to change…”
- In one of her last interviews before her death on Thursday, the celebrated author and illustrator, whose family fled the Nazis, talks books and antisemitism – over tea, of course. Read our interview with Judith Kerr here.
Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said Kerr’s books “helped a younger audience understand the horrors of the Nazi regime through a child’s eyes,” adding: “She will be sorely missed.”
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit was “the first book about the Holocaust I ever read”.
She said: “It left a lasting impression on me as a young child. I have never forgotten the story or the sensitive and insightful way she described the trauma she and her family experienced. Her writings will continue to inspire new generations. I feel lucky to have known and worked with her.”
Human rights lawyer Adam Wagner tweeting that she was: “A giant of children’s literature, a refugee, an author whose values shone through in every word she wrote and beautiful, humorous illustration she drew. I was lucky enough to take my children to hear her speak last year”.
Meanwhile, the Jewish Museum London said: “Her work spread immense joy across the world and it was a privilege to get to know her. She was a dear friend to the museum and she will be greatly missed.”
We are saddened to learn about the death of Judith Kerr. Her work spread immense joy across the world and it was a privilege to get to know her. She was a dear friend to the museum and she will be greatly missed. pic.twitter.com/4MAhZSScyM
— Jewish Museum London (@JewishMuseumLDN) May 23, 2019
Until just a few weeks ago, Kerr was still helping to educate schoolchildren about the Holocaust, for which she was awarded an OBE in 2012, and friends this week recalled her “exuding warmth and a bit of mischief”.
She taught herself to draw and illustrated her books, the most famous of which – The Tiger Who Came to Tea – was originally written for her own children in the 1960s. It has since sold over one million copies. More evocatively, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit became a set text for millions of German schoolchildren.
Next week, her photographic portrait will be projected onto famous London buildings such as the Southbank Centre as part of an exhibition to mark Refugee Week.
In 2004 she was interviewed for BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs. “I think of the business of the Holocaust, and the 1.5 million children who didn’t get out as I got out, in the nick of time, I think about them almost every day now, because I’ve had such a happy and fulfilled life and they’d have given anything to have had just a few days of it.
“I hope I’ve not wasted any of it. I try to get the good of every bit of it because I know they would have done if they’d had the chance.”
Michael Newman, chief executive of the Association of Jewish Refugees, described Kerr as “a cultural icon whose books were loved by generations”. He said she “leaves a rich legacy of charming and enduring stories and will be greatly missed”.