Based on the popular children’s book by Judith Kerr — which itself was based on her own experiences as a child — Caroline Link’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is the story of the Kemper family, German Jews who fled Berlin in the early 1930s as Hitler was coming to power. Told primarily through the perspective of young Anna (Riva Krymalowski), it’s a compelling drama about family and finding your place in the world.
At first, Anna and her older brother, Max (Marinus Hohmann), think they’ll just be away from their home, friends, and beloved housekeeper, Heimpi (Ursula Werner), for the summer. Surely that will be long enough for circumstances to change in Germany so that their father, Arthur (Oliver Masucci) — a noted theater critic and outspoken opponent of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party — can return to the city they all love. But as it becomes clear that the Kemper family, which also includes glamorous pianist mother Dorothea (Carla Juri), were lucky to get out of Germany when they did and may never be able to return to Berlin, they must adjust to a new normal.
The family’s quest to find a new place to call home leads them first to Switzerland and then Paris. In each location, Anna demonstrates the most ability to adapt, learning new languages and customs and finding ways to make friends. Arthur and Dorothea, who lived a privileged life in Berlin, struggle with the family’s new limited circumstances, with antisemitism, and with fear and sadness as they hear what’s happening back in the country they left behind. Ultimately, though, the Kempers find comfort in each other and are grateful that they have a future to look forward to as a family.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (the title references the beloved stuffed toy that Anna had to leave behind in Berlin) isn’t Link’s first film about a Jewish family fleeing Germany ahead of the Holocaust. Thematically, it has much in common with her Oscar-winning Nowhere in Africa, which was also based on real events and also offered a perspective on the events surrounding World War II that isn’t frequently seen in cinema. But while both films include the experiences and viewpoints of young girls going through life-changing events, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is geared more toward viewers who are the same age as Anna and Max. Their resilience will hopefully inspire empathy and compassion in modern kids who see the film, underlining the destructive impact of nationalism and prejudice. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Nell Minow: For children, everything is new, and that means everything is normal. There is a very narrow range in the weight attached to events compared to the adult perspective. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, based on the best-selling memoir evocatively portrays a child’s perception of some of history’s most traumatic events. Judith’s father tells her not to let anything interfere with her warm heart, and in this film we see that the humanity and understanding Judith Kerr kept intact in her warm heart are sensitively portrayed by director Caroline Link and her talented cast.
Sherin Nicole Within every atrocity there are as many stories as there are lives affected. The journey of Anna, the young lead of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, feels very much like a parallel for Anne Frank. Pink Rabbit is based on the autobiographical children’s book series by Judith Kerr—both stories of young girls faced with the threat of Nazi Germany are heartbreakingly real. Yet the path Anna (Riva Krymalowski) and her family take when they flee Berlin is harsh rather than horrific, more coming-of-age than unstoppable tragedy. Because of that you almost wonder if similar events might’ve happened in the lives of the von Trapp Family when they walked out of Austria. Pink Rabbit is gently moving, it does not hide from the Holocaust but it does remind us that hope persists. Co-writer/director Caroline Link’s film is as wistful as memory, it is in the warm muted color palette, the andante pacing, and the characters who are near and still just out of reach. And because of all those things we find ourselves reaching for them, within the very tangible realization that survival is possible.
Pam Grady: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is one of those rare family films that really is as appealing to adults as to children. It is an involving story, one that is clear enough for a child to understand with a heroine with whom it is easy to identify. For grownups who understand the full historical implications of the tale, it is a moving story of one family’s survival as the world is on the cusp of going mad. Read full review.
Marilyn Ferdinand A well-to-do Jewish family in Berlin become refugees when Hitler comes to power in 1933. Director Caroline Link returns to a familiar subject, one that garnered her film Nowhere in Africa an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2003. This time, it is the Kemper family who escape to Switzerland with the Nazis on their heels and then leave for Paris in search of work. Tension in the first half of the film gives way to a kind of normalcy, even as the Kemper children wade into a fountain to collect the coins people have made wishes on to keep their anti-Semitic landlady from throwing them out for nonpayment of rent. Based on a semiautobiographical novel by Judith Kerr, a renowned writer and illustrator of children’s books, the film is well-paced and beautifully filmed in locations across Europe. Link’s skill with child actors is apparent as Kerr’s stand-in, Anna (Riva Krymalowski), grows believably from a child worried about leaving her pink toy rabbit behind to one who learns to adapt, let go of the past, and face whatever the future brings. This is a solid film that is great for the whole family.
Jennifer Merin When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, German filmmaker Caroline Link’s compelling truth-based drama, is based on Judith Kerr’s popular semi-autobiographical children’s book about the a German Jewish family — theater critic Arthur Kemper, his wife Dorothea and their two young children, Max and Anna — who fled Germany in 1933, settling in Switzerland, then Paris and, finally, London to escape Nazi persecution and the death camps. The family’s epic journey is related primarily from Anna’s point of view. With When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and her previous film, Oscar-nominated Nowhere in Africa, Caroline Link takes a look at how the Holocaust impacted Jewish families who were in the enviable position of being able to lead relatively ‘normal’ lives during the Nazi onslaught, but were still very seriously impacted by it. The beautifully crafted film and its narrative, as told from Judith’s perspective, are a push-the-envelope meditation on the lasting effects of the politics of hate.
Loren King For those who don’t know children’s author Judith Kerr, German director Caroline Link provides an absorbing introduction with her elegant adaptation of Kerr’s highly regarded, autobiographical children’s novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit which apparently Kerr wrote and illustrated in order to teach her own history to her children. The film follows the book’s story of how Kerr, renamed Anna Kemper, and her loving, well-off, educated Jewish family headed by theater critic Arthur fled Germany in 1933 just as Hitler was gaining power. Arthur, who is based on journalist and screenwriter Alfred Kerr, had criticized Hitler publicly and was now wanted by the Nazis. He and the family lived in exile first in Switzerland, then Paris and finally London. Link’s handsome movie offers a tender depiction of parental love for their two children. Particularly effective is Arthur’s gentle, respectful relationship with the thoughtful and inquisitive Anna, a budding artist, as he tries without success to find work as a refugee. The story is a powerful reminder of the scope of the Holocaust: even those lucky enough to survive by having the means to get out of Germany suffered immeasurable loss. Told from Anna’s point of view, she endures frequent callous antisemitism, the loss of her beloved nanny and news of the deaths of loved ones left behind all the while watching her parents struggle to keep the family intact without money, food and the life they once knew.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Director Caroline Link’s adaptation of German-British children’s book author Judith Kerr’s semi-autobiographical 1971 middle-grade novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is — like Link’s Oscar-nominated 2001 drama Nowhere in Africa — an exploration of a Jewish family’s tumultuous time in exile. Both stories revolve around somewhat prominent families that manage to flee Nazi Germany in the 1930s before exile became impossible. Link lovingly tells Kerr’s story about how protagonist 9-year-old Anna Kemper, her 12-year-old brother Max, their mother Dorothea, and their father Arthur (an outspoken theater critic and columnist who opposed the Third Reich) left everything behind in Germany in order to escape imminent capture in 1933. The story focuses on the indignities the Kempers endure while traveling from Germany to Switzerland to France, having to start over again and again. Young German actor Riva Krymalowski does a fine job capturing the confusion, distress, and resilience of a young refugee who doesn’t quite understand the severity of her situation. Father Arthur is brilliantly played by the talented Oscar Mascucci, who famously portrayed Hitler in the 2015 satire Look Who’s Back. More character study than plot driven, this isn’t a Holocaust drama (although the camps are mentioned in a couple of short but powerful scenes). This is a story of how a lucky Jewish family that got out still faced poverty, discrimination, and homesickness — but is still grateful to be alive and together.
Leslie Combemale Judith Kerr was a German born British writer and illustrator whose books, including The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the Mog series, are beloved around the world. The first book in her trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels the Out of the Hitler Time series When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit was born out of a desire to help her children understand what it was really like for her family during Hitler’s rise to power. Oscar-winning German writer/director Caroline Link co-wrote the screenplay based on Kerr’s novel, and directed this latest of her projects that examine WW2 era Germany and its impact on Jewish families. It’s clear she has a passion for bringing familial love to the screen. What is most striking and memorable about the film is the chemistry between parents Max and Dorothea Kemper, and their connection with daughter Anna and son Arthur. We as the audience are so invested in the whole family getting to safety that we are made to feel a surprising spectrum of emotions through the storytelling and performances.
Liz Whittemore Directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Caroline Link and based on Judith Kerr’s beloved semi-autobiographical book, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit brilliantly presents the innocence of childhood and the perspective of a prominent family during the Nazi regime. We watch The Kempers flee from Germany to Switzerland, then Paris, and finally London. Witnessing them navigate politics, financial hardship, and newfound dynamics between one another is fascinating and beautiful. This extraordinary film is not only cinematically stunning but the chemistry of this cast is a director’s dream. The award-worthy performance from our young ingenue Riva Krymalowski will capture your heart. It’s a wonderful film to watch with your children and inspires any viewer to seek out Kerr’s original text.
Cate Marquis German filmmaker Caroline Link’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is based on Judith Kerr’s memoir about her childhood when her German Jewish family was forced to flee Berlin as the Nazis rose to power. In the film, which is told primarily from the viewpoint of the young daughter Anna, famous theater critic and writer Arthur Kemper (Oliver Masucci), who has been criticizing Hitler on the radio and in the newspapers, gets a tip shortly before the election that will eventually bring Hitler to power that Arthur is on list of people Hitler plans to target, which forces the writer to flee Germany. As his family, wife Dorothea (Carla Juri), a pianist, and son Max (Marinus Hohmann) and daughter Anna (Riva Krymalowski), prepare to secretly join him in Switzerland, the children are told they can only take one toy and two books. Young Anna is torn between taking her new favorite stuffed animal, a terrier dog, or her oldest toy, a pink stuffed rabbit, and decides to the leave the pink rabbit in the care of the family’s beloved housekeeper Heimpi (Ursula Werner), who promises to bring it and other toys in a suitcase when she joins them. When the family reaches Switzerland, Anna learns that the Nazis have seized their home and everything in it, including the suitcase with her pink rabbit. The drama, well-acted and filled both dramatic tension and familial warmth, follows the family’s journey as refugees wandering through Europe, one step ahead of the the Nazis, a story told primarily through Anna’s eyes, as her comfortable life is upended, she discovers new inner resources, and the bonds of family are strengthened, in this uplifting film.
Title: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
Directors: Caroline Link
Release Date: May 21, 2021
Running Time: 99 minutes
Language: German and French with English subtitles
Screenwriter: Caroline Link, based on Judith Kerr’s eponymous novel
Distribution Company: Greenwixh Entertainment/Warner Bros.
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin