Also known as Fifi or Koko, the mischievous monkey known widely as Curious George has captivated children for decades with his adventures, usually causing trouble but escaping before being made to suffer through the repercussions.
But the origins of the light-hearted stories – as documented by exhibits at the Jewish Museum in New Yorkand the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Chicago – are rooted in the oppression spawned by Nazi Germany in World War II.
Before the first tale had been fully written, the simian’s creators – husband and wife team H.A. and Margret Rey – had to flee a soon-to-be-occupied Paris by bicycle, taking them to Spain and Portugal before finally arriving in America, and they soon bequeathed to the world a children’s icon.
“If the Reys had not escaped from France by bicycle to Spain to Portugal, we would have never known Curious George,” Noreen Brand, the Illinois museum’s education director, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Escaping disaster, a recurring element in the tales, could also be a biographical detail used by the couple, according to the New York exhibit’s curator Claudia Nahson. The couple reportedly were questioned multiple times regarding their intentions whilst on the lam.
The New York showing, located in Manhattan, focuses more on the working relationship between the partners. In Chicago meanwhile, the curators hope that the exhibit will be an introduction to the concept of the Holocaust for older children, as the event is recommended for those aged 10 and up.
“It’s a way to tell the story of two people who were Jewish and were able to flee,” said Beth Seldin Dotan, curator of a previous showing in Omaha, Nebraska.
“They didn’t get caught up in the most difficult parts of the Holocaust.”