Several years ago I read the book of that title written by Mona Golabek about the experiences of her mother, Lisa Jura, first in Vienna and then in London. She had been sent there at the age of fourteen in the framework of the Kindertransport, the undertaking that saved twenty thousand Jewish children from certain death in the Holocaust.
The book spoke to me on several levels. First of all, the pivotal role played by music in the life of the young girl who eventually became a concert pianist, and secondly, the location of the hostel for refugee children, Willesden Lane, not far from where I grew up, in Kilburn. Incidentally, Willesden Lane is no country lane, as its name implies, but rather a busy thoroughfare in a residential area of north-west London. Even Riffel Road, which is mentioned several times, featured in my childhood, as it was there that my mother’s cousin, our Auntie Fraenze, lived. But most importantly, the hostel itself was a concept that featured largely in my life. As a newly-married couple, my parents worked for several years as house-parents at a similar hostel, the Sunshine Hostel in Hampstead, and it was there, in fact, that I first saw the light of day.
Over the course of recent years I read that the author, Mona Golabek, was appearing with great success in America, and later London, with a dramatized version of the story, and it intrigued me greatly. In fact, I went so far as to contact her by email to suggest that she bring the performance to Israel. I received a polite reply from her assistant saying that at present Miss Golabek had no plans to come to Israel, but that it was a possibility to be considered in the future.
And so I jumped as if bitten last week when I saw an ad in the newspaper stating that the play would be given at the Cameri Theatre in Tel-Aviv in a few days’ time. The tickets were quickly ordered (by then the main auditorium was already completely sold out, and the only seats left were on the balcony), and on the appointed evening we made our way to the metropolis.
Mona Golabek is the sole performer, and what a talented individual she is! She walks onto the empty, darkened stage alone, plays passages from Grieg’s piano concerto and other pieces from the classical repertoire and reenacts the story of her mother, first as a child in Vienna, and then as a teenager in London during the Blitz. Images illustrating the various incidents in her life are projected onto screens behind her, but the main focus of attention is on Mona at the piano.
Simply being able to play that demanding piano concerto would be quite a feat in itself, but Mona does much more than that. She sits at the piano, plays and talks (sometimes simultaneously) and seems to revive her mother’s life, to such an extent that we identify the two as one individual. She also has an actor’s talent for mimicking the voices of other characters – her gruff piano teacher in Vienna, the young French resistance fighter who courts her mother, and some of the other children in the hostel.
But for me the most moving moment came at the end. After tumultuous applause from the audience, Mona came to the front of the stage and spoke, visibly moved, about her lifelong ambition to present her story in Israel, “the best country in the world” (her words), and how much it meant to her to be here. She also mentioned having visited Yad Vashem with her father, and for a moment I thought ‘that’s impossible,’ but of course she was speaking as Mona, not as Lisa, the persona she had inhabited for the preceding hour and a half.
Sadly, only one or two performances were given in Israel, and it is to be hoped that Miss Golabek will find the time to come back in the future, to enable more people to benefit from her moving story and unbounded talent.