New Holocaust ed program launched in San Francisco

When Bay Area public school students return to class in August, their education on the Holocaust will take a new and decidedly musical turn.

The S.F.-based JFCS Holocaust Center has launched “The Children of Willesden Lane Bay Area Big Read,” a course for middle- and high school students.

Mona Golabek performs in her solo show “The Pianist of Willesden Lane.” photo/creative commons

Designed for grades six through 12, the course curriculum is based on the book “The Children of Willesden Lane” by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen. It tells the true story of Golabek’s mother, Lisa Jura, a teenage musical prodigy in Vienna whose dream of becoming a concert pianist falters when Nazi Germany annexes Austria and her parents send her to London with the Kindertransport. She ends up in the Willesden Lane Orphanage, where she is able to once again find her musical footing.

The course aims to teach Holocaust history, the importance of standing up to hatred, and the transformative nature of art. The program — which includes the curriculum and copies of the book for students — culminates with a performance of “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” at the Herbst Theatre in November. The one-woman show, starring Golabek, has played to rave reviews in the Bay Area and across the country.

Golabek, of Los Angeles, staged a production of “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” at Berkeley Rep in 2014. The sold-out run was extended for weeks before moving on to New York. Golabek, an acclaimed concert pianist in her own right, plays piano and portrays multiple characters in the play.

Jewish Family and Children’s Service’s Holocaust Center is presenting the program in collaboration with Golabek’s Hold On To Your Music Foundation, Facing History and Ourselves (a nonprofit educational and professional development organization promoting diversity), the San Francisco Unified School District and other schools throughout Northern California. Up to 7,000 students are expected to participate in the program, which will also make connections between refugees of the Holocaust and those in today’s refugee crisis.

“We are proud to bring ‘The Children of Willesden Lane’ to the Bay Area and so thankful that our donors have made this possible,” said Joyce Newstat, chair of the Council of Children of Survivors at the JFCS Holocaust Center.

A workshop for educators is set for Aug. 18. For more information on the program, call the JFCS Holocaust Center at (415) 449-1281 or email ninag@jfcs.org. — dan pine