Judith Kerr was born in Berlin as the daughter of an influential Jewish writer and theatre critic. Her family left Germany in 1933 just before the Nazis first came to power after a tip-off from a policeman that their passports were about to be seized. Alfred Kerr had openly criticised the Nazi regime, and they later publicly burned his books.
The family travelled first to Switzerland and then on into France, before finally settling in Britain. Judith has lived in the same house in London since 1962.
When teaching her two children to read English Judith became frustrated with the lack of literature available for this purpose and wrote The Tiger Who Came to Tea (1968) as a way of helping her children to read but also as a means of telling the story of her family. It began as a bedtime story for her three-year-old daughter and has never since been out of print.
Her other autobiographical illustrated novels When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and The Other Way Round tell the story of the rise of the Nazis in 1930s Germany from a child’s perspective, and have sold well globally as well as in Germany as a way of explaining a difficult period of time to children. She’s also written and illustrated 17 books in the Mog series, and many other popular titles.
In 2011 she was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to children’s literature and Holocaust education.
The rise of Hitler and increasingly restrictive environment in Nazi Germany caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee. The German annexation of Austria in March 1938 and increase in personal attacks on Jews followed by the nationwide pogrom Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass) in November and seizure of Jewish property caused around 36,000 Jews to leave Germany and Austria in 1938 and 77,000 in 1939.
On top of Jewish emigration, many academics, artists, authors and musicians whose work was labelled as ‘degenerate’ left for Europe or the United States as persecution increased throughout the decade. Degenerate was a term used to describe nearly all modern art, which was severely restricted.
Throughout the 1930s a large number of Jews were seeking sanctuary in the UK due to persecution in Germany, but the immigration policies relating to them were very restrictive. In November 1938 the Kristallnacht pogrom convinced Chamberlain to ease the admission policy, but even then refugees were only allowed entry on temporary visas. The British cabinet agreed that they would try to secure a home in the UK for Jews expelled from Germany who had achieved success in a number of fields including art.