In early September 1939, just after World War II began, the Reys — a husband-and-wife team of German Jews living in Paris — sought refuge at Château Feuga, an old castle owned by some friends in southern France.
At such a time, Hans A. Rey wrote in a letter, “it feels ridiculous to be thinking about children’s books.” But that is what they were doing, prolifically, including a book about a monkey named Fifi, who later became known as Curious George.
When suspicious villagers reported the strange couple in the old castle to the authorities, gendarmes searched the place for expected bomb-making material, but the studio with pictures of the mischievous monkey convinced them of the Reys’ innocence.
Apparently, Fifi/George served much the same function when, in more serious straits in June 1940, his creators fled Paris on bicycles Hans Rey built from parts. As Louise Borden described in her 2005 picture book, “The Journey That Saved Curious George,” they left two days before the Nazis entered Paris and rode 75 miles in three days. Their four-month journey on bicycle, train and boat led them to Lisbon, then to Rio de Janeiro and New York, the drawings offering proof of their occupations when they sought American visas.