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Michael Lamont

Michael Lamont

Michael Lamont


Rosalind Marmel


Rosalind Marmel, Los Angeles, May 7, 2012

Multi-Ovation Award Winner Hershey Felder directs Grammy Nominated Mona Golabek, the daughter of a child of the Kindertransport in THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE…the story of a little girl who was sent away on the Kindertransport and told to hold on to her music.
Mona Golabek, who wrote the beautiful book, The Children of Willesden Lane is a beautiful woman. Mona, an acclaimed, Grammy nominated concert pianist plays piano beautifully.
The Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse across from UCLA in Los Angeles is a beautiful and intimate theater.
Hershey Felder, who is married to Kim Campbell, (Canada’s former Prime Minister),  beautifully directs Mona Golabek, as she stars in the one woman world premiere The Pianist of Willesden Lane.
The true-life story of Mona’s family takes place at a time when the world was far from beautiful.
Set in 1938 in Vienna, the city of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss and Mahler,  and in London during the Blitzkrieg, through music, words and heart wrenching visuals that were shown in elegant picture frames in the background, Ms. Golabek, by personifying  her mother, Lisa Jura, a 14-year-old Jewish piano student, tells her family’s story.
Lisa was a poised and carefree red head growing up in the Jewish district, in a crowded tenement with her beloved parents Malka and Abraham, her little sister Sonia and her older sister Rosie.  Abraham was considered the finest tailor in pre war Vienna known for his impeccable workmanship. Malka prided herself on raising her daughters in a Jewish home.  Abraham also had a gambling habit that infuriated Malka. Besides Lisa’s love for her family, Lisa had two big concerns. One was that she looked “absolutely divine” for her piano lessons. She imagined herself dolled up in makeup that naughtily Rosie would apply when Malka wasn’t paying attention, while Sonia giggled in delight.  She would wear a wool beret bought at the local thrift store on her dark, red hair, propped coquettishly to the side like the models she saw in fashion magazines.  (Mona Golabek was wearing her mother’s beret when I met her).  There was a reason. Lisa’s dream was to make her concert debut playing Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto at the Vienna Symphony Hall.  She had made a secret oath to grow up to be paralleled to the greatest musicians of all time. Her mother was a piano player too.   
Tongues wagged throughout the neighborhood wondering where the Jura family got the money to buy a second hand piano so that Lisa could practice.  Later, ears pressed to windows so that they could listen to the wondrous music that Lisa Jura was playing.
It was November of 1938. The sisters were counting the days to Chanukah. It was a Sunday. Starting at age ten Lisa would take the streetcar across Vienna to Professor Isseles’s piano studio. The Sunday Mona Golabek described with her words, as her fingers united with the ivory piano keys on the polished grand piano started as every Sunday did for Lisa.  
As that Sunday, progressed Lisa’s world changed as our world was changing forever.
When Lisa got off the streetcar, she noticed that the street signs were changed. “Mahler-Strauss” suddenly had the name: “Meistersinger-Strasse.” She gasped but proceeded. She was angry. The Nazis disapproved of such a magnificent street being named after a Jew. 
She decided to try to squelch that anger. It would distract from her precious music.
Mona, in an elegant and dignified manner played the music of the maestros her mother yearned to play like on the gleaming concert grand piano as if she were in a trance while telling the story. The audience seemed to be in a trance also.
Lisa’s lesson began. As she played, she saw a depressed expression on Professor Isseles’s face. She got frightened thinking that she was playing badly. Nervously she asked if she could play the Allegretto the next week. The Nazis had issued an ordinance. It was a crime to teach a Jewish child. 
“I am not a brave man. I am so sorry. You have a remarkable gift, Lisa. Never forget that.”
The professor picked up a delicate gold chain with a charm in the shape of a piano. He told Lisa that it was not much, but that perhaps it would help her to remember the music they had shared.
Devastated, Lisa made it home. There were German SS storm troopers everywhere. She could not understand why Germans were telling Austrians what to do. She could not understand why Austrians were letting them. She thought everyone was looking at her.  Her perfect posture turned into slouching. Malka got scared when Lisa walked into the living room dropping her music on the bench. Malka guessed what had happened. 
As she held her daughter in her arms, she told her not to worry. She had taught her before. She would teach her again. Malka took out the sheet music from Chopin’s preludes. She told Lisa that she would play one hand while Lisa played the other. Then they would reverse. They pretended that things would be okay. Both knew that Lisa had surpassed her mother’s skill.
Lisa went to her room smothering her tears in the pillow. Rosie came in telling her that crying would not help and that she would cheer her up by showing her new things to do with makeup. Rosie knew about these things. Rosie was the runner-up in the Miss Vienna contest two years earlier, when it was allowable for non-Aryans to compete.  
Friday came. The sun was setting earlier. Malka had Shabbat dinner prepared. Malka had made it a custom to prepare kosher meals, that those less fortunate would come and pick up to take home for Shabbat. That Shabbat eve Malka did not have enough food. She sadly sent them home empty handed.  This shocked Malka’s Lisselle.  The Shabbat candles were on the table.  Malka lit extra candles. She lit one for each daughter and one for her mother Briendla in Poland.  Papa was not home. Papa had to be home for Shabbat dinner when they would sing the peaceful songs welcoming the Sabbath.  That night the girls fell asleep while Malka rocked slowly in her mahogany rocking chair, her eyes staring out the window at the street below.
Lisa had noticed that her father was not dressed immaculately as he was before.  His disheveled and frayed clothes upset her.  It was forbidden for Gentiles to use Jewish tailors. The sign on his shop said that it was a Jewish business. To help support the family he played cards with other neighborhood men in the storeroom of Mr. Rothbard’s butcher shop.   Lisa overheard arguments over money behind the bedroom doors. She knew why her papa was late.  It was at times like that when she escaped to the piano and her dreams. 
Loud shouting awoke Lisa and Sonia. The sounds were not their parents arguing. They
hastened to their bedroom. It was empty so they ran to the living room window. The sky was red from flames of burning buildings. They heard glass shattering everywhere. Brown-shirted soldiers, swinging clubs were throwing rocks and bricks through windows. Mr. Mendelsohn, the druggist raced out. Two SS soldiers threw him into the plate-glass window of his pharmacy. Lisa threw Sonia under the bed ordering her to stay there. Rosie was at her friend’s place. Lisa heard cries coming from the staircase. She rushed there finding her mother holding her father’s bloodied head. His clothes were torn and filled with fragments of glass. He tried to tell them that it was nothing as Malka and Lisa helped him up the stairs. The SS soldiers were beating people.
Abraham began to recite the ancient prayer of the Jewish people, the Shema. He tried to talk about the atrocities he witnessed. Malka tried to quiet him so that Rosie would not hear. Abraham told Malka that they had to know. Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, took place November 9th to 10th of 1938. 
Mona Golabek’s fingers played crescendos as the audience watched scenes in the picture frames. I heard the Shema in the background. I do not know who in the audience will ever forget. 
Abraham ran out to join the bucket brigade the neighbors had formed trying to put out fires burning homes and buildings down. Lisa witnessed her papa forced to strip naked by the Nazi soldiers, down on to his knees, and ordered to scrub the dirty pavement. The soldiers kicked the men screaming words we never want to hear if Jews did not move fast enough. Unable to bear the shame Malka took the girls into the bedroom to wait for the night to end.
Curfews were placed on Jews. Jews were not allowed out at night or in most public places. As the Nazi cruelties continued and men were taken away, there was talk of prison camps. 
Malka tried to calm Sonia with stories about Purim. She tried to explain that Adolph Hitler was like Haman reminding her about Queen Esther. She told her daughters that Hitler could not hurt them if they remembered that the Jews were the chosen people and if they believed in God. She continued to teach piano music to Lisa. 
Despite Malka’s pleadings, Abraham went out to play cards. Neighbors who went out never came home. Abraham came home grasping a piece of paper. It was one ticket for one child to leave the country by train on the Kindertransport, headed for England. Mr. Rothbard and his wife refused to use the ticket for their little boy. They felt that the entire family could flee another way. He gave the ticket to Abraham. 
Abraham begged Malka to understand that since Rosie was 18 and ineligible that they must choose between Sonia and Lisa. While the girls were asleep, they made their decision. At breakfast, Malka told Lisa that they chose her to go to England.
“Lisa, you are strong. You have your music to guide you. As soon as we have enough money we will send your sisters.” She began to weep. Lisa, not wanting to make it harder for her mother kept herself from crying. Her father told her that there was an organization called Bloomsbury House. It had arranged for Jewish children to be taken to England until their families could join them. His cousin Sid there was also a tailor. Lisa said that she would work for him and send the money. That Sunday they went for a picnic in the park. The tram arrived. A sign in German read, “Jews and Dogs Forbidden.”
The Kindertransport was to leave the week after Chanukah. They lit the candles each night. There was joy because the family was still together. 
Mona in the manner described tells her mother Lisa’s story. The cousins didn’t have room for her. Arrangements were being made for children, not just Jewish children, to stay protected in hostels.  If they had skills, they could earn some money. Lisa said that she could play the piano. That didn’t go over too well so she told Mr. Hardesty, who interviewed her that she could sew. He checked off a little box. Eventually Lisa was chosen to go to one of the many hostels being prepared by Quakers, Jewish groups, churches and kind people all over England. She was in a summer camp, in December with other young refugees, learning English and how to use gas masks until they were relocated.  
An important military officer was turning his huge mansion into a civil defense headquarters. His wife had a new baby and they needed extra help. Lisa had a younger sister so they decided that Lisa could help change diapers. So began Lisa’s life at what became a hostel for other children at 243 Willesden Lane in the suburbs of London. Her music gave other children hope as they cheered her and her music on. Lisa Jura became a concert pianist. Her daughters, Mona and Renee did also. 
I asked Mona Golabek what advice she had for children, or any one for that matter, going through life shattering times.
“I think it is important to identify your faith, your passions, and hold on to those items. They can get you through the darkest of times, just as they did for my mother. She held on to music that allowed her to survive. Everyone has to find what works for him or her. You have a choice and finding that will allow you to take a strong path in life and help you through the darkest times.”
Due to unprecedented ticket sales, The Pianist of Willesden Lane, has been extended to run through June 24th, 2012. The opening aptly coincided with Holocaust Memorial Week.  I believe that I will one day see Mona Golabek and Hershey Felder on stage accepting Tony awards. 
For educational and other resources and even to hear Mona play, go to . For tickets go to or call (310)208-6500.
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