Saturday 8 June 2019

Tribute to Judith Kerr by Keren David

By a strange coincidence, the week that Judith Kerr died I'd written a feature about the photographer Gerty Simon who was a photographer in Weimar Germany, before the war. Her photographs - brought with her when she fled Germany as the Nazis took power -  had been lost for decades, inherited by her son and then by his partner. He brought them to the Weiner Library in London where they are now on display -  portraits of a lost world, artists, writers, dancers, actors. (You can read about them here

And among them a solemn, beautiful small child. Judith Kerr as she was before she left Germany. Before she became a refugee, and then an artist, a mother and  -  gloriously -  the writer and illustrator of some of the best children's books ever made.

On the day that her death was announced I sat down and wrote this piece. I wanted to pay tribute to the woman who created  books that I'd read as a child -  When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit - which told me what it was like to be a refugee, and books that I'd loved reading to my children -  The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the Mog books. There are more, of course - Judith Kerr never stopped writing and drawing - and her last book came out just after her death. 

She was a woman whose life was turned upside down as a child, who had to build a new life in a new country, and who adapted with resilience. Her books -  whether tackling Nazis, death, burglars, hungry tigers or flappy marquees -  were reassuring, optimistic, and gave children and their parents the essential message that everything, however challenging, could be coped with. 

She dedicated her autobiography to "the one and a half million Jewish children who didn't have my luck and all the pictures they might have painted."   
Her son said last week that she understood how difficult it was to be a refugee and  "she was absolutely angry about the Windrush scandal. These people were like her, they had come to Britain to do everything they could to fit in and to be treated the way they were made her furious.”

I am deeply sad that I never met her. She is, and will always be, one of my heroines


Lynne Benton said...

What a lovely post, and a splendid tribute to a great lady. Many thanks, Keren.

Hilary Hawkes said...

I enjoyed reading your lovely tribute. She was/will remain one of my heroes too. I watched such a lovely interview with her, accessible online a year or two ago, but just can't find it again now! The interviewer spent a day with her and she spoke about her work and her life. It was wonderful and if anyone else remembers it, knows how to track it down and can post a link I'd love to watch it again :)

Sue Purkiss said...

A lovely piece.