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Is Paddington Bear Jewish?

Is Paddington Bear Jewish?

Michael Bond, the author, based his beloved character on Jewish children who were refugees in war-torn Europe.

by

Michael Bond, whose literary creation Paddington Bear is beloved by millions of children (and adults) around the world, has died at the age of 91. But the world he created endures: a polite, old-fashioned Britain where a lonely bear, newly arrived in Paddington Station in London sported a sign imploring people to “Please Look After This Bear” and was taken home and adopted by the kindly Brown family.

When Mr. Bond wrote his first Paddington book in 1958 he was inspired by the influx of thousands of Jewish children into London before World War Two.

In November 1938, after Nazis and Nazi sympathizers destroyed hundreds of synagogues and thousands of Jewish-owned homes and businesses throughout Germany and Austria, Britain relaxed its restrictive rules barring Jewish refugees and allowed Jewish children from Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany to enter. These groups of unaccompanied children (parents were barred from traveling with their children) were called Kindertransports, and eventually brought between nine and ten thousand Jewish children to Britain.

The first Kindertransport arrived in the British town of Harwich on December 2, 1938 and brought 200 children from a Jewish orphanage in Berlin that was destroyed during Kristallnacht. The children were a pitiful sight, clutching their few belongings and wearing signs identifying them in lieu of parental care. About half of the Kindertransport children were looked after by British foster families throughout the war; others were housed in schools, hostels, farms and camps.

As a child, Michael Bond watched a group of these children arrive at the train station in the town of Reading. Years later, he recalled the profound impact the sight made on him. “I remember their labels round their necks and then I remember going to the cinema and seeing on the newsreel that Hitler had moved into some new country and seeing footage of elderly people pushing prams with all their belongings in them. Refugees are the saddest sight…”

In his Paddington books, Mr. Bond included a kindly seemingly Jewish Hungarian refugee, Dr. Gruber, who owns an antique store and enjoys many of Paddington’s many mid-morning snacks with the bear. In later years, Mr. Bond revealed he based this character on his real-life literary agent Harvey Unna, who was a Jewish refugee. Mr. Bond remembered him as “a lovely man, a German Jew, who was in line to be the youngest judge in Germany, when he was warned his name was on a list, so he got out and came to England with just a suitcase and £25 to his name.” Together, Paddington and Mr. Gruber form a counterweight to the small-minded and intolerant neighbor Mr. Curry in the Paddington books.

The Jewish children that Michael Bond witnessed decades ago changed the way he looked at the world. “They all had a label round their neck with their name and address on and a little case or package containing all their treasured possessions.” In his own way, Paddington was a tribute to these brave children. “Paddington, in a sense, was a refugee,” Mr. Bond later explained.

His beloved creation, a small brave bear, lives on to inspire generations of readers, and also serves as a tribute to the children of the Kindertransport, who, like Paddington, left all they knew behind to travel to a safety in a new and strange land.

June 28, 2017

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Cara, July 11, 2017 11:26 PM

that's so cool I've never read Paddington Bear before

(5) Anonymous, June 30, 2017 11:08 PM

Paddington Bear

Great story, thanks for posting.

(4) Norman Karr, June 30, 2017 3:39 PM

The real Paddington Bear

Thank you, Dr. Miller, for your beautiful tribute to Michael Bond. I had not heard of Paddington Bear until a young reporter at my newspaper explained he was a favorite friend from her childhood. Your back story makes the conclusion of your article -- "His beloved creation, a small brave bear, lives on to inspire generations of readers," -- all the more poignant.

(3) Reeva Forman, June 30, 2017 12:34 PM

A tribute to Jewish " refugees" of the Holocaust

May this tribute bring with it the compassion, understanding, and action needed towards today's refugees, irrespective of their religious or ethnic affiliation.

(2) Sarah Vorchheimer, June 30, 2017 4:39 AM

My late husband was a kindertransport child

בס"ד
Until Mr Bond's passing, I thought of "Paddington Bear" as a book given to my eldest son as a child. However, radio commentary on the Paddington Bear story, after Mr Bond's passing, made me suddenly think, "I wonder if her were inspired by the arrival of Kindertransport children?" My late husband, Ludwig, was a Kindertransport child. He was just young enough to qualify. He described to me how he could only take one small case about the size of a medium schoolcase, with the absolute minimum of possessions. As I recall, they crossed the channel by ferry and then were taken in a train to London. They all wore identity tickets round their necks and were connected to the families who would care for them at the railway station. He was taken by an uncle, a doctor (whether a real uncle or not I am uncertain, though my late husband's 12 year-old girl cousin, Brigitte Stein, later joined him there) to Lye in Staffordshire and found that he was being apprenticed to a ?foundry where he had to shovel coal into a furnace, whereas he had been planning to become a doctor after matriculating. After Brigitte joined her parents who had successfully escaped to the U.S., Ludwig ended up with a very kind non-Jewish family in Lye, until he was interned as an enemy alien. (His uncle, Max, helped him get out of that situation, and to get to the U.S., after he spent the Blitz in the London underground stations awaiting his ship to New York.)

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