Every discussion with the creative team that follows a performance of Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski brings a new perspective on who Karski was, what his legacy means for people in Poland and worldwide, and what it means today. It was no different in Kraków, Poland, where the stage play about the Polish hero was presented at the VARIETE Theater on February 2. The talkback was moderated by a respected Polish journalist, Jacek Stawicki.
David Strathairn, who portrays Karski in the play, reflected on Karski’s complex personality, which he uncovered through research, source materials, and by talking to Karski’s Georgetown students and people who knew him. Karski was a humble and courageous man who emanated dignity, resolve, and faith. At the same time, he had a great sense of humor and enjoyed the company of other people and good conversation. A question about why Karski remained silent for so long and why he eventually decided to speak triggered an inspiring conversation. One of the arguments for Karski’s silence offered by Clark Young, the co-writer, was a post-traumatic reaction that Karski must have experienced, just like so many people who have witnessed or experienced atrocities. Derek Goldman, the co-writer and director, pointed out what he called a “collective silence,” which was common after WWII, especially in relation to the Holocaust, whether out of trauma or indifference – the silence which we can observe now about the evils happening around the world. There was an interesting debate after someone from the audience asked why Karski stayed in the U.S. since he felt the Allies betrayed Poland by giving territorial and political concessions to the Soviet Union. The artists talked about how Karski learned to embrace the complexities of governmental decisions. He was proud of his dual Polish and American citizenship.
There was also a discussion about the importance of bringing the show to Poland, considering the proximity of the war in Ukraine. Derek Goldman talked about wanting to inspire young people to act in the spirit of Jan Karski and to recognize what a member of the audience called “other Karskis” in our midst. He also stressed that the intention of the writers was to create a piece that would not be just about a historical figure but would also bring past events to the present.
Members of the audience who later gathered in the foyer shared their admiration for David Strathairn’s brilliant performance and their emotional response to Karski’s story. They were deeply touched, moved, and inspired. They said they would carry this experience in their hearts for a very, very long time. Three members of the classical-music Karski Quartet, who flew from Brussels, Belgium, just to see the play, were thrilled about an opportunity to see the live show about their hero. It made them feel more connected to Karski and proud to be the ambassadors of the Karski legacy. See the interview with the whole ensemble by following this link: https://www.jankarski.net/en/news-and-events/news/ambassadors-of-the-jan-karski-legacy.html
The last performance of the tour is going to be in Poznań on February 4.
The play was created by Georgetown University’s Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, co-written by Clark Young and David Goldman, and directed by Derek Goldman. The tour is organized and funded by the Jan Karski Educational Foundation (U.S.) and Fundacja Edukacyjna Jana Karskiego (Poland) and highlights the accomplishments of the Foundation on its 10th anniversary. It was made possible thanks to the collaboration with the Cities of Warsaw, Łódź, Kraków, and Poznań, Polish Foreign Ministry, the Polish History Museum, as well as many private, public, and corporate sponsors.