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Margot Benary-Isbert

Margot Isbert, born in Saarbrücken, Germany in 1889, spent her childhood in Frankfurt am Main, an old and picturesque town. As a child she told stories to her younger brother and sister, and at the age of ten or eleven started writing them down. Her first short story was published at the age of nineteen. While studying journalism at the University of Frankfurt, her ethnology professor asked her to become his secretary at the Völkermuseum (Folk Museum) in Frankfurt. For seven happy years Margot worked there “between fetishes, idols and masks,” until she met her future husband Wilhelm Benary.

Marriage and a daughter filled the next few years, and the Benarys settled in Erfurt, the center of the German seed-growing business, where her husband’s family had owned a seed firm for more than a hundred years. Here, in an old house with a lovely old garden, Margot began to raise Great Danes, her favorite breed of dog. This was a joyous period with many trips through Europe, as well as a visit to the United States. In her spare time she wrote poems and short stories for magazines.

But the Nazis stopped that life. From 1933 to 1945 Margot could not publish anything, since she refused to join the Nazi writers’ organization. She wrote only for friends and read aloud to them during the long hours spent in bomb shelters. Dog breeding had to be given up, too, during the war and Margot concentrated on feeding her family. She learned to milk, to raise milk-sheep, goats, rabbits, and chickens.

At long last the United States Army freed the Benary’s part of eastern Germany from Nazi rule in the spring of 1945, yet ten weeks later it was given over to the Russians. She and her daughter had survived the war, despite their partial Jewish ancestry, but one dictatorship had been enough. The Benarys left their home, garden and business behind. They fled west and first stayed at Rowan Farm for a few months at the home of good friend, Mrs. Almut. Next they moved on to a little town near Göttingen and Kassel. For six years they shared two tiny rooms with two other families, where at last she had more time to write again, mostly by candlelight since electricity was rationed.

German youth were much in need of encouragement and hope at this bleak time, so she began writing children’s books. Her first two books were The Ark and Rowan Farm. Both Margot and Margret were refugees who had lost everything, but their families, to the war. The Ark was first published in Germany in 1948 as Die Arche Noah and Rowan Farm as Der Ebereschenhof in 1949. These books were a turning point in her career. More books followed, both for young people and adults, which were translated to many languages and loved around the world. The Benarys moved to the United States in 1952 and she proudly became an American citizen. Mrs. Benary passed away in California in 1979 at the age of 89.

The author’s photo and much of this bio, written by the author herself, was found in the book More Junior Authors [1963] by Muriel Fuller. The rest came from the back of the original 1953 dust jacket, which we assume she also wrote, and her grandson contributed the fact that she was of partial Jewish ancestry.