Pink Rabbit turns gold: Judith Kerr’s daughter tells the story behind the book

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here
Life Magazine

Pink Rabbit turns gold: Judith Kerr’s daughter tells the story behind the book

The beloved tale of the girl who left her toy bunny in war-torn Berlin is 50 years old. Judith Kerr’s daughter talks about the real story behind When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

When Hitler Stoke Pink Rabbit was shown at UK Jewish Film Festival 2020
When Hitler Stoke Pink Rabbit was shown at UK Jewish Film Festival 2020

Since she could first remember, Tacy Kneale has had a keen awareness of being the child of a Jewish refugee. 

But to know exactly what is feels like to be one was only an understanding that really came after her mother, Judith Kerr, sat down one day and penned a book about her own childhood experiences during the Second World War.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, which also features Judith’s original illustrations, has sold more than three million copies worldwide since it was first published 50 years ago.

Now, in celebration of its special milestone anniversary this month, HarperCollins is republishing a hardback version, while Tacy has lent her vocal skills to the first audiobook edition of this special tale.

Tacy, a trained actress and artist who has worked on the animatronics for the Harry Potter films, tells me she was thrilled to be involved with helping bring her mother’s “beautifully written” story to a new generation.

Illustrations from the book

Based on Judith’s early life and her family’s escape from Nazi Germany when she was only nine, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is told from the perspective of a little girl named Anna, who is too busy with schoolwork and tobogganing to listen to talk of Hitler.

But, one day, she and her brother are rushed out of Germany in alarming secrecy, away from everything they know, to embark on an extraordinary journey to a new life.

According to the oft-repeated story, Judith – who died aged 95 in 2019 – was inspired to write the book after taking her children – Tacy and her brother Matthew – to see The Sound of Music.

Michael and Judith pictured in 1926 with parents Alfred and Julia

“That’s absolutely true,” relates Tacy, who was around 13 at the time When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit came out. “Obviously we knew the basic facts, such as fleeing Germany to escape the Nazis and going to Switzerland and France, but I think mum said we didn’t want to hear too much detail. We didn’t really know exactly what it was like, you know, what it felt like.

“We went to see The Sound of Music and my brother said afterwards, ‘Well now we know exactly what it was like for mummy!’ That was the moment, I think, when she was galvanised into writing her book.”

Riva Krymalowski as Anna in the 2019 film version of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.

One of the reasons, perhaps, for the book’s subsequent success was the fact that, in 1971, there was nothing quite like it.  

“The main knowledge one had of the war was Anne Frank,” agrees Tacy. “That, of course, was a very different story, or all the war films, which were told through the point of a view of the army and air forces, not a little girl.”

The other reason is the fact that Judith’s work could be read and appreciated on different levels by both children and adults.

The cuddly toy as described in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

For Tacy, reading it now five decades on feels like a completely separate experience to the one she had when she first encountered the book.

“As a child, apart from having the strange thing of it being about my own mother, it also read like an adventure. Anna and my mum were almost like
two separate creatures for me. 

“But when you read it as an adult, you think about what the parents must have been going through. My grandfather [Alfred Kerr, an influential German theatre critic and essayist] had such a huge, important life in Germany and he was bilingual. To then come here, when he was relatively elderly, and have his language taken from him, his everything essentially taken away from him, must have been horrendous. 

“My grandmother [composer and pianist Julia Kerr] was highly practical, a sort of bundle of energy, but again came here and was reduced to doing things she had no idea how to do.”

Judith with her daughter Tacy

Judith recalled how her parents largely shielded her and her brother, Michael, from their difficulties, so much so that she often commented: “They made us feel like it was an adventure”. It was only in her late forties, while writing When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, that Judith discovered the truth.

“My mother found out they were a lot closer to the edge than she knew,” reveals Tacy. “There’s a massive archive in Berlin containing documents about my grandfather and she found letters there written in desperation.
He had to sell everything. It was much worse than she realised.”

Read life magazine!

While depicting Anna on an “adventure” of sorts, the book is also unafraid to shy away from the more tragic elements of history, including the death of Uncle Julius at the hands of the Nazis.

“I think if she had left that out, it wouldn’t have been true,” reflects Tacy. “You can’t whitewash things like that.”

Although written five decades ago, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit endures in the canon of children’s literature, largely because the story remains relevant today.

Tacy agrees: “Before she died, I remember mum saying how she had heard about some particularly horrendous journey for a group of refugees who were hiding in a lorry. It was horrific and they managed to get here anyway, in terrifying circumstances – and my mum just shook her head
 and said, ‘I wonder which of them will now write their Pink Rabbit?’”

It was a poignant moment, one that especially resonated with Tacy because, as she acknowledges, her family  too were refugees. “If they hadn’t been lucky, I wouldn’t exist,”  she says.

Illustrations from the book

Now, a whole new generation can enjoy Judith’s story for the first time through the audiobook – and touchingly, Tacy – the inspiration behind her mother’s other well-known work, The Tiger Who Came To Tea – admits she ‘felt’ her mother with  her as she recorded the story.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

“I did slightly feel she was appearing over my shoulder as usual and saying, ‘Are you sure? Maybe you should do that bit again?’” she laughs.

“It’s a beautifully written story. When you read something aloud,  that’s when you discover if something is well written or not. So long as I read what she wrote,  it absolutely worked.”

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (50th anniversary edition) by Judith Kerr is published by HarperCollins in hardback (£12.99) and audiobook (£9.99) on 30 September


Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: