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Eye Contact with Jan Karski

David Strathairn as Karski in Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski (Photo: Teresa Castracane) David Strathairn as Karski in Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski (Photo: Teresa Castracane)

A review of the Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski by Karski's former student, who saw the show at Georgetown University on May 18, 2022.

“One does not watch Remember This; one experiences it. There is no other way to take it in fully. 

As a former student of late Jan Karski, I have been familiar with the Karski story for a long time, especially over the past ten years, dating back to the Centennial Campaign [to award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom] and spread the Karski legacy. I had even read the current playscript (note to all: get the GU Press book) just before going to see a performance at Georgetown University on May 18. I was, therefore, a little surprised by how David Strathairn’s inspired portrayal struck me with new energy, new insights, and renewed wonder, almost as if hearing the Karski story for the first time. There is a breadth and depth to it that simply cannot be captured on a written or drawn page. This story must be told.

Here is some free advice: sit down low – ideally about eye level with the standing Strathairn. I did this deliberately because I wanted to feel close to the dynamics of the physical action, but the serendipity was that Strathairn frequently comes downstage and makes eye contact with the audience. Our eyes met a few times. It was magnetic.

The other thing about this play is that it remains a work in progress, and admittedly so. Derek Goldman and David Strathairn are deeply committed to getting the story as close to the truth – and as motivational – as is humanly possible. A big part of their “research” involves engaging with the audience after the performance – assessing the impact, inviting feedback, collecting anecdotes, and taking questions.

Of course, Georgetown University can be a particularly fertile ground for this play since it can be guaranteed that someone in the audience would have had some personal connection with Karski. For example, after the performance I attended, Karski’s former research assistant recounted how she had come across a copy of his Story of a Secret State in the school library – stunning news to her at the time. She recalled how she brought it to Karski to learn more about him, only to have him raise his hands as if to push it away and dismiss it as “ancient history.” They did not speak of it again, apparently.

 All in all, I recommend that everyone who cares about the world and wonders what they can do to make it better – experience this play whenever and wherever you get a chance. Sit down low. Make eye contact. Stay for the discussion. And get the book.”

Thomas M. Sneeringer

Georgetown University Class of 1970

Member of the Jan Karski Educational Foundation’s Advisory Board

Washington, DC

 The script of the play is available for purchase here.

See other comments in the article about the Georgetown University May run of the show here.

 This production of the play, co-written by Clark Young and Derek Goldman and directed by Derek Goldman, was created by The Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics at Georgetown University and is organized with the support of the Jan Karski Educational Foundation.