When the World Was Ours


Liz Kessler created When the World Was Ours from her father’s childhood experiences of WWII. He was an Austrian Jew who seemed to have no hope of escaping Nazi tyranny. Or did he?

Thereafter, what of other children, such as Leo’s friends, Max and Elsa? What if your family rose up the Nazi ranks within the SS so that you moved from Vienna to Munich to an official position in Dachau? Furthermore, what if you held at your very core, memories of the friendship you shared with Jewish children like Leo and Elsa? What if you did not truly believe what you were told you must? That’s Max’s dilemma; to honour his father’s expectations and beliefs, or to acknowledge his truth, alone.

Meanwhile, what of Elsa, whose parents determine to escape to safety in Prague, where her father fights against the Nazi troops. Is there further safety in the ghetto created once the country is overtaken by Hitler’s forces? Where do the trains lead? Can the family stay together?

The photograph of the three friends together upon Leo’s birthday is a talisman to each. Yet at nine, each is innocent of the building hatred around them. Nine years later and it is a different story.

We feel each child’s story sincerely and movingly; this is not an ‘easy’ read, but neither should it be, for it is not an ‘easy’ history, but a blot on humanity.

Liz Kessler’s story is heartfelt, aching and horrifying. When the World Was Ours is an authentic and wonderful story.

Winner of the Older Readers’ category in the Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ Award

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When the World Was Ours

Liz Kessler

(Simon & Schuster)

When the World Was Ours consider Leo, Elsa and Max at various moments of their lives. It might have been the moment after their ride aboard Vienna’s Ferris Wheel. It is Leo’s ninth birthday and the best friends are fired by their delight in each other. Leo’s father catches it in the photograph he snapped. Thereafter, there is birthday sacher-torte to enjoy, albeit with guests from England.
It seems that 1936 day is a catalyst for all that follows. Thereafter, Max’s father’s special work becomes apparent as he rises through the ranks of the SS. This leads to a prestigious move to Munich for the family. Meanwhile, Elsa’s family escape to the apparent safety of Prague, where her Vatti joins the Czech army to fight Hitler’s forces. They believe they are safe within Czechoslovakia from Nazi programmes against the Jews. Meanwhile, is there any hope that Leo and Mutti might find a way to fulfil Papa’s determination they might escape Vienna? How? What clues has he left?
Liz Kessler has built When the World Was Ours from her father’s history of the Holocaust. We are actively involved in each child’s experiences of this period of history, from 1936- 1945, as each child’s story is told in turn.
This is a ‘tough’ read, because the voices are authentic and the history real and fracturing. However, Bookwagon asserts that reading this, acknowledging, sharing and empathising with horrific experiences of children like Leo, Elsa and Max is necessary We have to know these stories to recognise and insist they must never happen again.


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