Hans and Margaret Rey are the couple best known for creating the beloved children's book character Curious George. Although, without the couple’s bravery, resilience and determination to overcome threats to their safety and security, we would not have the legacy of films and TV shows that were based upon the original book series.
The couple’s extraordinary story begins in Rio de Janeiro, where Hans and Margaret, both German born Jews, had traveled following Hitler’s rise to power. The Reys met and were married shortly after. They then moved to Paris where they built their lives for the next four years, writing children’s books together in relative peace until the German army invaded France in 1940.
With the imminent threat to their safety and security, with the possibility of being captured by soldiers and sent to a concentration camp, the Reys decided to bravely flee the city. The situation was desperate as many other people had to suddenly seek safety, making securing transport out of France increasingly hard. The couple managed to secure bicycle parts and had to build their own bikes to flee the city as other forms of travel had already become compromised by German forces, or were already in use by other refugees. They set off on a perilous journey, with their precious manuscripts in their luggage, that took them across France, through Spain, and eventually to Portugal. The journey took several days and the Nazis entered Paris soon after they fled. Once safely in Portugal they were able to get a boat back to Brazil. After a stay in Rio de Janeiro to secure visas, the Reys arrived in New York where they would live the rest of their lives in their adopted country and produce their famous work: Curious George.
The couple's perilous journey has been captured in an exhibition titled “The Wartime Escape: Margret and H. A. Rey’s Journey from France” which recognises the human needs that drove them to escape persecution and to seek a better life in America. The exhibition consists of a series of photos of the Reys and reproductions of Hans’s diary entries and sketches crafted during their refugee journey. Whilst it was the couple's contribution to literature that made them famous, this collection displays that the author's creativity and inspirational story about seeking safety and security is also a legacy worth celebrating.