Hans Augusto Reyersbach, known as H.A. Rey, was born in 1898 in Hamburg, Germany. After serving for the Germans in WWI, Hans left Germany for Brazil seeking adventure. While working in a bathtub factory in Rio, he met his wife Margaret, a fellow German Jew who had fled Nazi Germany. The couple married in 1936 and moved to Paris after finding it impossible to leave on their honeymoon.
While in Paris, H. A. Rey was commissioned to write a children’s book. Although his first book is little remembered, a character from the book has become a popular icon: the monkey, Curious George (then called Fifi).
Soon after Curious George was created, WWII broke out in Europe. The Jewish couple was no longer safe, escaping Paris on bicycles a few hours before the city fell into the hands of the Nazis. From Paris, the couple escaped to New York, but not without difficulties along the way.
While on a train with other fleeing refugees, they were singled out for their German accents and bags filled with papers, the conductor believing them to be spies. Rey pulled out the first draft of the new Curious George book, and the confused conductor let them stay.
The manuscript that saved their lives was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1941, becoming an instant success. In 1963, the couple moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they remained until H.A. Rey’s death in 1977.
A friend of the couple founded a children’s bookstore in honor of the Rey family, calling the store “Curious George and Friends”. The original store closed in 2011, but in 2012 a new Curious George shop opened in the exact location, the only shop in the world dedicated to the iconic Monkey.
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