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Teaching The Children of Willesden Lane
Resources to help you teach the book in middle schools and high schools

Chapters 1–3

Identity in a Time of Change

As Lisa Jura, a 14-year-old Jewish girl, travels to the home of Professor Isseles for a piano lesson, she pictures herself as a concert pianist playing the opening of Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Despite the pleasure she takes in such dreams, she is troubled by the changes she sees in Vienna, her hometown. There are suddenly German soldiers everywhere and signs warning that Jews are not welcome. Even Professor Isseles is affected by the change. After she plays for him, he sadly tells her that he can no longer give her lessons. It is now a crime for an Austrian to teach a Jewish child. “I am not a brave man,” he says softly.

Lisa’s mother and sisters try to ease her disappointment. Her mother, Malka, offers to be her daughter’s music teacher again. Lisa’s older sister Rosie tries to distract her with makeup lessons as her younger sister Sonia watches. It is a tense time for the family. Lisa’s father, Abraham, who claims to be “the best tailor in all of Vienna,” no longer has customers, because Austrians are not allowed to do business with a Jew.

Then comes Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass.” On the evening of November 9–10, Sonia and Lisa are awakened by loud noises. When they look out the window, the sky is red with flames. German soldiers are throwing rocks and even flinging men into plate-glass windows. Lisa, Sonia, and their mother watch helplessly as the Nazis humiliate and then beat her father and other Jewish men in their neighborhood, burn the synagogue, and loot Jewish houses and businesses. In the days that follow, the Nazis place more and more restrictions on Jews, mirroring many of the measures already in place in Germany.

The violence convinces Lisa’s parents that they must send their children out of the country in order to protect them, but they are able to secure passage for just one child on the Kindertransport, an effort to rescue Jewish children by sending them to Britain. The Juras decide to send Lisa. Rosie is too old to be eligible, and the Juras consider Sonia too young to travel alone. On her day last day at home, Lisa walks through the house storing memories. One treasure she places in her pocket—a copy of “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy.

At the train station, Malka tells Lisa, “Remember what I’ve taught you. Your music will help you through—let it be your best friend, Liseleh. And remember I love you.”

Synopsis text from the curriculum guide, created by Facing History and Ourselves and the Milken Family Foundation, pg. 22.

A woman sitting on a park bench

A woman sits on a park bench in Germany marked “For Aryans Only.”


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