Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
The sacrifices and strains of wartime take a toll on everyone at 243 Willesden Lane—including Lisa. Still, when she wins a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, the children and the staff celebrate. Now Lisa’s days are busier than ever. She works the morning shift at the factory and then rushes to the Academy for her music classes, only to return to Willesden Lane for three hours of practice every evening. Soon the effects of her grueling schedule begin to show. When Mrs. Floyd, her piano master, discovers that Lisa’s arms are sore from lifting heavy bolts of cloth in the factory, she finds her a job as a pianist in a lounge at the Howard Hotel in London.
At first, Lisa knows only a few popular tunes, but she quickly learns to play many of the soldiers’ favorites. The lounge is a popular gathering place for the American, Free French,1 and British troops. Gina, and later Gunter, stop by every week to hear Lisa play. One evening in 1943, Aaron also surprises her with a visit. His experiences on the front line have changed him.
After Lisa completes her first year of study, Mrs. Floyd invites her to prepare for a debut concert at Wigmore Hall. Lisa is ecstatic, but the debut is postponed because of the war. Despite her successes, Lisa, like the other residents of Willesden Lane, is increasingly fearful about the fate of her family. It has become virtually impossible to learn anything about her relatives’ whereabouts. In this difficult time, Lisa once again invokes images of her family to give her strength for her music, but the length of the silence has begun to affect her playing.
On May 7, 1945, Lisa is rehearsing with Mrs. Floyd, when the doors fly open and a fellow student announces that Germany has surrendered. The war is over! As Lisa makes her way home, she realizes that while the nightmare is over for the British, the children at Willesden Lane have not yet confronted their own personal nightmares. The young refugees flock to Jewish agencies in search of surviving family members, but they find few, if any, survivors. As the months of silence continue, Lisa is overcome with grief as she realizes that she will probably never see her parents again.
Even the marriage of Gina and Gunter cannot lift the spirits of the residents of Willesden Lane in the spring of 1945. Thus far, only Gunter’s mother has appeared on a list of survivors. Everyone in the families of Mrs. Cohen and Mrs. Glazer was murdered, as were most of the relatives of the young refugees at Willesden Lane. Although Gina and Gunter are among the few who are trying to move on, their wedding is a bittersweet occasion.
Soon, the hostel on Willesden Lane is crowded with new arrivals, many from places like Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, and Auschwitz. As the building becomes more crowded, residents over the age of 21, including Lisa, are asked to find somewhere else to live. Lisa moves to Mrs. Canfield’s house. As her debut rapidly approaches, she is increasingly fearful that she will not be able to perform. Just as Lisa is about to tell Mrs. Floyd of her fears, she receives word that Rosie and Leo have survived and are on their way to London. Only after their emotional reunion does Lisa allow music to return to her life. Her debut is made all the more spectacular by the presence of her two sisters—her only remaining family. Surrounded by Sonia and Rosie and her beloved friends from Willesden Lane, Lisa is ready to face the world.
1. After France fell to the Germans in 1940, General Charles de Gaulle appealed to French men and women to join him and the British in the fight against the Nazis. By 1944, Free French forces numbered over 400,000.
Synopsis text from the curriculum guide, created by Facing History and Ourselves and the Milken Family Foundation, pgs. 39, 42.