Adjust size of text


Follow us and continue the conversation

Your saved articles

You haven't saved any articles

What are you looking for?

Gunned down and burned by the Nazis: the shocking real story of Bambi

TJI Pick
Print this

Published: 28 March 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Walt Disney made Bambi a cutesy schmaltzfest for kids. But the original story was a brutal allegory by a Jewish writer who later fled the Nazis.

Bambi, the iconic fawn best known for her wide-eyed Disney incarnation, is celebrating a very significant birthday, it being a century since the German imprint Ullstein Verlag first published Bambi: A Life in the Woods.

Written by Felix Salten, an Austro-Hungarian, the coming-of-age novel would go on to be banned by the Nazis before eventually winding up in the hands of Walt Disney and becoming the animated children’s film many know and love.

But Salten’s Bambi was far from the cutesy romantic hero of the Disney film. Both versions see the eponymous fawn learning about the natural world, losing his (yes, his) mother after she is shot by a hunter, then growing into an adult. Faline – Bambi’s love interest and also, in the book, his cousin – appears in both, but she and Bambi are estranged by the end of the original, not living as a happy family as Disney has it.

Perhaps the most crucial difference between Salten’s novel and Disney’s film, however, is that the former was aimed at adults. Bambi: A Life in the Woods initially appeared in 1922, as a serialisation in the Viennese newspaper Neue Freie Presse, before being published as a book the following year.

While the threat of being hunted is a memorable feature of the film – leading Stephen King to call it the first horror movie he ever saw – this danger looms much larger in Salten’s work.

Salten’s ending has “a very deep meaning” says Jack Zipes, translator of Princeton University Press’s 2022 edition. “How do we deal with our loneliness? How do we deal with life in a brutal situation?”

Gunned down and burned by the Nazis: the shocking true story of Bambi (Guardian)

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

Enter site