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

Historical Context

Hitler’s Rise to Power

In the early 1930s, a worldwide depression intensified feelings against Jews and other minorities. A depression is a time when economic activity slows as more and more businesses decrease production and lay off workers. It was a time of stress and uncertainty. In such times, many people are attracted to simple answers to complex problems. Antisemitism and other forms of racism intensify, as often “they”—Jews and other minorities—are blamed for the crisis. In Germany, the myth that Jews were responsible for all of the nation’s problems was fostered by groups like Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist, or Nazi, party. In speech after speech, Nazis maintained that the Jews were everywhere, controlled everything, and acted so secretly that few could detect their influence. The charge was absurd, but after hearing it again and again, most came to believe it.

In 1933, the Nazis took control of Germany after winning more seats in the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament, than any other political party. Once in power, they began to turn Germany into a “racial state” by eliminating the nation’s “racial enemies”— particularly the Jews. Hitler proclaimed 42 anti-Jewish measures in 1933 and 19 more in 1934. Each was designed to protect “Aryan blood” from contamination with “Jewish blood.” Then, in 1935, three new laws were announced in Nuremberg. These laws stripped Jews of citizenship and isolated them from other Germans by outlawing marriages between Jews and citizens of Germany.

The Nuremberg laws raised an important question: Who is a Jew? On November 14, 1935, the Nazis defined a Jew as a person with two Jewish parents or three Jewish grandparents. Children of intermarriage were considered Jewish if they followed the Jewish religion or were married to a Jew. They were also Jews if they had one parent who was a practicing Jew. In the years that followed, the Nazis would apply these racial laws to not only Jews but also “Gypsies” and Germans of African descent. Increasingly, Nazis defined people solely by their ancestry.

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Adolf Hitler reviews nazi troops

Adolf Hitler (center) reviews troops at Reich Party Day in Nuremberg, Germany, September 1935.

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