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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

The Kindertransport

People around the world were outraged by the events of Kristallnacht, but only a few were willing to offer Jewish refugees a safe haven. Among them were a number of Jews and Christians in Britain and Nazi-occupied Europe. These men and women decided to focus their efforts on children under the age of 17, because they feared the British would see adults as competitors for jobs, housing, and social services. To counter the argument that the children would be a burden on taxpayers, the rescuers promised government officials that private citizens and/or organizations would pay for each child’s care, education, and eventual return home. In return, Britain permitted unaccompanied refugee children to enter the country. However, once World War II began, the British banned all further immigration from Nazi-occupied countries.

The first Kindertransport, or children’s transport, from Germany arrived in England on December 2, 1938. The last transport from Germany left on September 1, 1939, just hours before World War II began in Europe. In all, the operation saved nearly 10,000 children, about 7,500 of whom were Jewish. Statistics reveal the importance of the effort. More than 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered in the ghettos and death camps of Nazi-occupied Europe. Their deaths were part of what has become known as the Holocaust, a Greek word that means “complete destruction by fire.” Between 1933 and 1945, Adolf Hitler and his followers murdered about one-third of all the Jews in the world. Young and old alike were killed solely because of their ancestry. The vast majority of children on the Kindertransports were the only survivors in their family.

A crowd of young people with their belongings

Members of the first Kindertransport arrive in Harwich, England on December 2, 1938.

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