The children of Willesden Lane: a true story of hope and survival during World War II by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen
Allen and Unwin, 2017. ISBN 9781760630805
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. In Austria, following the 1938 Kristallnacht (The night of the broken glass) Malka and Abraham Jura, parents of Rosie, Lisa and Sonia made an indescribably painful choice to save one of their daughters from the evil brutality of Nazism.
Having secured only a single seat on the Kindertransport, these loving parents chose their fourteen year old daughter Lisa, a musical prodigy who dreamed of becoming a concert pianist. Lisa's mother urged that she must 'hold on to her music and let it be her best friend'.
The hearts of all family members were torn when she left on a train via Holland to take refuge in England where Jewish children were accepted if sponsored by a relative. Lisa feared for her family and experienced natural distress caused by separation and feeling displaced in an unfamiliar country. This was made worse when her sponsoring relative essentially abandoned her at the railway station and she found herself assigned as a maid to a wealthy family in the country. Whilst shown kindness by staff, Lisa realised that she could not respect her mother's wish to follow her dream if she stagnated, so the plucky girl left and arranged her own transport to London.
Life became more bearable for Lisa when she was given accommodation at Bloomsbury House, a hostel for a large number of Jewish refugee children of varying ages, run by the kindly Mrs. Cohen. All the refugee children undertook paid work for their support and when Great Britain declared war on Germany, they laboured for the war effort as they anxiously watched Hitler's armies rolling through Europe to threaten from across the Channel.
Reading historical biographies so often causes me to reflect on how stoic and resilient previous generations have been under the most impossible circumstances. I cannot imagine the sense of loss and fear Lisa Jura must have felt during her early adolescence, yet she endured mental and physical exhaustion from long days of demanding work and lack of sleep from nightly bombing during the blitz.
This story centres on the courage and persistence of a child who yearned to fulfil her musical dreams and quickly matured beyond her years in a time of grave uncertainty.
I highly recommend this book for 13 years onwards.