Curious George — that curious little monkey — is beloved by millions of readers around the world. His adventures with the Man With the Yellow Hat impart important life lessons amidst silliness and mayhem.
But many people probably don’t know that the children’s book character was actually born during very dark times. His two Jewish creators, Margret and H.A. Rey, fled the Nazis in 1940 — on homemade bicycles, no less — carrying their unpublished manuscripts with them.
The story of the couple’s daring escape is told in the forthcoming documentary “Monkey Business: The Story of Curious George’s Creators,” which will premiere online and on on-demand platforms on Tuesday, Aug. 15. At the same time, in a coincidence of timing, the 2005 children’s book “The Journey That Saved Curious George,” will be mailed to 8- to 11-year-olds across the country this month through the PJ Library, a non-profit that champions Jewish-themed children’s books.
No matter what the format, the story of Curious George’s creators is a fascinating one.
Hans Augusto Rey (née Reyersbach) and Margret Waldstein first met in Hamburg in the 1920s. Margret, who had studied art at the influential Bauhaus school and whose father was a member of the German parliament, left Germany for Brazil in 1935 to escape the rising tide of anti-Semitism. Hans had been working in Rio de Janeiro as a bathtub salesman. The pair, who had met over a decade before in Germany, married that year and moved to Paris.
Hans worked as a cartoon illustrator for a newspaper, and Margret wrote copy. A French publisher was impressed with some of Hans’ animal drawings and suggested they work on a children’s book. Their first work was “Raphael and the Nine Monkeys,” and one of those monkeys would later become George.
By June 1940, the situation in Paris looked grim as Hitler’s troops began to close in. Millions of people flocked to…