One Eye Laughing, The Other Weeping Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
To the Discussion Leader
One Eye Laughing, The Other Weeping captures the incredible highs and lows in Julie Weiss's life. Julie's diary tells the gripping story of what is was like to be a Jewish girl in 1938 Austria, especially after Hitler marches in and claims the country. In Part One, noted author Barry Denenberg brings readers face to face with the horrors perpetrated on the Jews by the Nazi soldiers. With page-turning intensity, readers watch the Austrian Jews suffer humiliation, torture, and death. Almost every night supposed "friends" become Nazi informers, and whispers of "camps" from which Jews never return begin to fill Julie and her relatives with nightmares. When her father arrives at the heart-wrenching decision that his daughter must escape from Austria to the safety of America, Julie is crushed but bids goodbye to a family she will never see again.
Part Two chronicles Julie's new life with her aunt and uncle in the United States. About creating his heroine's American experience, Barry Denenberg says: "Julie and her new life evolved in a way that felt beyond my control. Sentences flowed and daily entries fell into place in the most unpredictable and eerie fashion — as if I were directing a play that had already been written."
The play's the thing in this part of Julie's life as she joins her actress aunt on the Broadway stage playing first in Peter Pan and later appearing as Emily in Our Town. Denenberg does a beautiful job describing Julie laughing and basking in audience acclaim and later waking up at night with nightmares of the atrocities her loved ones must be enduring in Austria. The sounds of radio news reports concerning the war are juxtaposed against the roar of Broadway applause.
Denenberg says that when he was twelve he read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and has re-read it every year since. "The true beauty of Anne Frank's diary is that she always sounds so incredibly real. Her diary makes the Holocaust personal, not political; individual, not anonymous." Denenberg wrote Julie's diary with Anne Frank's right by his side "so I wouldn't forget, truly, what I was doing." And succeed is what Denenberg does. One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping gives the Holocaust a human face — that of Julie Weiss and the family members she never sees again.
"One day you're worried whether you should cut your hair short or leave it long, part it in the middle or off to the side, use a barrette or no barrette. And then, the next day, you're worried that your family is going to be rounded up by the Nazis and taken who knows where." Overnight, twelve-year-old Julie Weiss's life does change that dramatically. She has been living a privileged life with her parents and older brother Max in an elegant apartment with servants and fine food. Her closest confidante is the maid, Milli, whom she adores. Julie and other Jewish people seem to live peacefully among their Gentile neighbors in 1938 Vienna, Austria, and Julie's main concerns are boys, books, and braces on her teeth.
But, it is the time of Hitler's rise to power in Germany, and anti-Semitism begins to creep into Julie's life, with taunts from non-Jewish classmates ("Hello, Jew-lie."), and snubs from previously friendly merchants. Finally, Hitler takes over Austria, and one fateful night, Nazi soldiers burst into the Weiss's apartment, and drag Julie's parents and brother out into the streets where they hurt and humiliate them. That night, Julie also finds out that her beloved Milli is a Nazi sympathizer who has turned against the family.
Soon after, violence against the Jews increases, school becomes unbearable, and Julie's mother, traumatized by what the Nazis did to her, commits suicide. Julie says, "the world I know is collapsing all around me, and I can only stand by and look on in helpless horror and mute disbelief. There is nothing I can do." Julie's father feels that the safest place for her is in America with her Aunt Clara and Uncle Martin, and arrangements are made for her to join them in New York City. Julie hates to leave her father, but she knows she must go.
Aunt Clara and Uncle Martin are patient and kind to Julie, but she finds it hard to enjoy herself because she is haunted by dreams of her family and the horror in her homeland. Gradually, she begins to adjust to life in America; trying new foods, learning American slang, and helping her actress aunt rehearse for plays. Aunt Clara, seeing that Julie has dramatic talent, encourages her to audition for the part of Wendy in Peter Pan. There is no news from her family in Austria, and Julie is thankful for the play "to take my mind off everything else." Her success in Peter Pan inspires Julie to take the role of Emily in Our Town. She and her aunt will play mother and daughter once again. Although she constantly worries about her family in Austria, "I am safe and sound. Writing at my desk and sleeping in my warm bed while my father and brother are God knows where," Julie begins to feel close to Aunt Clara and Uncle Martin, and is able to survive by immersing herself in her acting.
Thinking About the Book
- Why do you think the book is titled One Eye Laughing, The Other Weeping?
- Explain the reasons Hitler persecuted the Austrian Jews like Julie's family and friends.
- What is the saddest part of Julie's story? What is the happiest?
- In her March 25th diary entry Julie writes, "People are such cowards, really. At heart people are cowards." Why does she think this? Do you agree?
- Julie loves to play with and learn new words. Write a short definition of these words found in her diary. affidavit squander nonchalant clairvoyant loathe
- Over the cash register in Mr. Heller's bookstore he had a sign that read "YOU CAN'T GET RICH SELLING BOOKS, ONLY READING THEM." What is the meaning of Mr. Heller's sign?
- What is the reason Julie's mother and Aunt Clara stopped speaking years ago?
- Why does Dr. Weiss want Julie to take English lessons? Why must she be so secretive about it?
- In the final page of Julie's diary she quotes some lines from her favorite scene in the play Our Town. Julie writes that the thoughts of the character she plays, Emily, are "sentiments so true, so simple, and so sweet, I wish I could grab them and hold them to me so I could have them for all time." Go to that last page and read Emily's words. What do these words have to do with Julie? How would you answer Emily's question, "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?"
- Read The Diary of Anne Frank. Compare and contrast these two diaries and these two girls. Make a chart highlighting the similarities and differences in the girls and their diaries.
- In her diary Julie often compares people to the animal she thinks that person resembles. She writes, "I think everybody looks like some kind of animal." Do you agree with Julie's statement?
- When Julie is learning English, she falls in love with one special song, "Someone to Watch Over Me." Read the lyrics to this song found in her diary entry of February 28th. Ask each member of your group to write down one reason they believe Julie loved this song. Share your answers with each other.
- On January 19th Julie writes, "I HATE borrowing books from the library. I don't like being compelled to return them by a certain, specified time. If you can't read a book when you want, what's the point?" Have a discussion that ends by taking a group poll. How many members side with Julie? How many disagree?
- On November 13, 1938, Julie writes about the Nazi destruction of the Jewish schools, stores, and synagogues in Vienna. This night is known as Kristallnacht. Find out more about Kristallnacht.Why was that night so named? What is a pogrom?
- Have each person in your group choose one of the following words. Each member of the group should research the term; bring back a definition to the group; and explain why this word is important in Julie's story.
*Night of Broken Glass
- Examine the photo at the end of Julie's diary where the Jewish students are being humiliated in front of their classmates. Pretend you are one of those being picked on. Write a diary entry describing this event in your life.
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.