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The Transformative Effect of Jan Karski’s Story

Derek Goldman, the Artistic and Executive Director and Co-founder of the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics at Georgetown University speaking at the Karski Event at the Gaston Hall on April 11 (Photo: Bożena U. Zaremba) Derek Goldman, the Artistic and Executive Director and Co-founder of the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics at Georgetown University speaking at the Karski Event at the Gaston Hall on April 11 (Photo: Bożena U. Zaremba)

To celebrate the 110th anniversary of Jan Karski’s birth, the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics at Georgetown University inaugurated Karski Day on April 11 with a special event that included the screening of the award-winning movie Remember This, a one-man show brilliantly performed by Oscar-nominated actor David Strathairn.

Ersian François, the Lab's General Manager and Associate Producer, opened the evening by sharing the mission of the Karski Legacy Initiative, which was created to ensure that everyone who walks through the gates of Georgetown University—Jan Karski’s alma mater—knows who he was. The Lab’s Artistic and Executive Director and Co-founder, Derek Goldman, briefed the audience on the history of the project launched during the commemoration of Karski’s centennial in 2014 with a stage reading, which evolved into a one-man theatrical production. Goldman emphasized that his team has worked tirelessly to fulfill Karski’s belief in our common humanity. He also recognized the Lab’s partners, including the Jan Karski Educational Foundation and the Embassy of the Republic of Poland. Senior Learning Designer for Transformational and Inclusive Initiatives, Ijeoma Njaka, spoke about the implementation of Jan Karski’s lessons into the University’s curriculum. Finally, the Political Counselor of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, Adrien Chrobot, took to the podium and announced that the creators of the play Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski and the film Remember This—writer Clark Young, co-writer and director Derek Goldman, and the actor David Strathairn—have been recognized with the Polish Cross of Merit for their contribution to promoting the story and legacy of the Polish hero. The Jan Karski Educational Foundation was represented at the event by the following people: Bożena U. Zaremba, Director of Programming, members of the Advisory Board Wanda Urbanska and Thomas M. Sneeringer, and Paweł Wołkanowicz, member of the Management of Fundacja Edukacyjna Jana Karskiego in Warsaw. Also present were several of Karski’s former students, including Giordano Chiaruttini.

The core of the event was the presentation of the film Remember This, which is based on the theatrical production Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski. The movie, produced by Eva Anisko, was co-directed by Jeff Hutchens (also Director of Photography) and Derek Goldman; the screenplay was co-written by Young and Goldman, and staring Strathairn as Jan Karski. This black-and-white production is visually minimalistic, and yet it always leaves the audience deeply moved, mesmerized, and motivated to remember and spread the lessons conveyed through the incredible story of Jan Karski. 

The screening was followed by a discussion with Goldman and Strathairn, moderated by Deborah Tannen, Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University. Goldman talked about the transcendent experience of designing the project and continuing it on such a large scale. “Artists are conduits for a message,” he said and added that he always wanted to use theater to foster conversation and make people listen to one another. “Teachers have a responsibility to transform and inspire other people,” he noted. He shared the challenges of making the movie—one of them was creating a sense of a theatrical experience by using long takes.

One of the most poignant comments came from an African-American lady in the audience, who stressed her African multi-cultural heritage and said this was the most extraordinary film she had ever seen in her life. Visibly moved, she shared with the audience that she experienced a spiritual awakening while watching it. In response to her remarks, Strathairn talked about the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual journey he continues to experience through his involvement in this project.

Click here for more information about the movie, including full credits and the trailer.

The event was organized in partnership with The Jan Karski Educational Foundation, The Embassy of the Republic of Poland, The Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown College of Arts and Sciences, The Department of Government, The Film & Media Studies Program, The Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice, and The Department of Performing Arts.