How Curious George Fought the Nazis

By Devra Ferst

Published March 10, 2010, issue of March 19, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

It’s hard to imagine a cartoon monkey saving the day anywhere other than in storybooks. But Curious George, the signature monkey of author and artist duo H. A. and Margret Rey, did just that, according to “Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey,” an exhibit of 80 original drawings and letters by the creators of the animated character. The exhibit opens on March 14 at the Jewish Museum in New York and runs through August 1.

The Jewish husband-and-wife team first created Curious George (then known as Fifi) while living in Paris in the late 1930s. The mischievous monkey often barely escaped trouble, frequently with the help of his friend and captor, The Man in the Yellow Hat.

It was George, however, who quite literally saved H. A. and Margret Rey — twice — during the couple’s escape from the Nazis. In 1939, authorities suspected their studio of being a makeshift bomb factory. But when they raided the grounds, they found drawings of Curious George instead of bomb parts, and didn’t arrest the Reys. A year later, the couple fled France by bicycle, taking with them sketches of the monkey. They used the salvaged images to prove their occupations when applying for American visas in New York, where they ultimately settled.

The couple developed characters and stories, both in Curious George books and in other illustrated children’s books, that served as more romanticized versions of their own tales of escape and misfortune. According to the exhibit, the two main characters of the seven Curious George books, George and The Man in the Yellow Hat, were based loosely on H. A. and Margret Rey themselves, who had owned pet monkeys while living in Brazil from 1925 to 1935.

Margret Rey’s personality was, like George’s, filled with curiosity and spunk. “All my life I spent standing behind Hans at his drawing board. I made all of the movements that George made,” she once said.

  • Image 1
  • Image 2
  • Image 3
  • Image 4
  • Image 5
  • Image 6
  • Image 7
  • Image 8


All illustrations courtesy of H. A. & Margret Rey Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi. Curious George, and related characters, created by Margret and H. A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. © 2010 by HMH.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.