Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski is a new play co-authored by The Lab’s own Derek Goldman with Clark Young, a former student of Goldman’s. Starring Academy Award-nominated actor David Strathairn, this one-person performance tells the story of Jan Karski, the Polish World War II resistance-fighter, Holocaust witness, and late, beloved Georgetown Professor. With a production history dating back to 2014, the current version of the work premiered at the SFS Centennial Celebration in 2019, and was met with enthusiastic response from viewers and critics alike – including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

A production of the play at Queen Mary University in London was also received high praise. Unfortunately, the London showing would be that last live performance of the play before the onset of the pandemic. Scheduled productions in Edinburgh, Scotland, Spoleto, Poland, at the McCarter Theater Center in Princeton, and at DC’s Mosaic Theater have been put on hold until the public health situation allows for safe travel and live performance.

But Remember This has remained vital and alive. A film version of the play is in post-production, a conversation about the relevance of Karski’s story that featured Nancy Pelosi and David Strathairn drew an impressive (virtual) crowd, and an exciting collection of educational materials has been assembled and offered to undergrads at Georgetown. Keep reading to learn more about how the project is growing and evolving!

Karski sitting on his desk talking to the audience.

Karski, the play: The Centennial Premiere

The opening night of the School of Foreign Service’s Centennial Celebration on November 15th featured the Lab’s performance of Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski. Co-authored and directed by Derek Goldman, the show stars Academy Award nominee David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck; Lincoln) in a virtuoso solo performance. The play explores the legacy of Jan Karski, Polish World War II hero, Holocaust witness, and late beloved Georgetown Professor. Building on earlier versions of the play with Strathairn and a larger ensemble, developed by The Lab and performed to much acclaim in New York, DC, Poland and other sites, this new tour-de-force solo performance brings the enduring lessons of Karski’s extraordinary life—especially his belief in humanity, even in the darkest times, into the present moment.

“The play was nothing short of a triumph.  It could not have set a more perfect foundation for the entire weekend, as it was such a moving tribute to our values, our history and our ambition to inspire the recommitment to our basic humanity that seems to be our only hope for the future these days.  Not a soul walked out of Gaston unmoved.  And every audience member came away thinking:  this is what SFS and Georgetown are all about.”

– Joel Hellman, Dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service

Strathairn, who has starred in the piece throughout its various iterations since 2014, says “I’ve always felt that one of the vital roles, even a responsibility, of the artist/citizen, is to provide palpable, emotive, and relevant insight into the most pressing issues concerning our common humanity. By dramatizing the legacy of Jan Karski, we are striving to do just that.”

In addition, a streaming version of the production served as the centerpiece of a new Georgetown course and an accompanying web-based educational platform last Fall, Bearing Witness: The Legacy of Jan Karski Today. The streaming version will be available to all Georgetown undergraduate students. After the pilot at Georgetown, this platform will then be made available for students around the world through our partnership with the Jan Karski Educational Foundation. Watch the trailer of the play. 

REMEMBER THIS:  the upcoming Karski Film

A fortuitous meeting with documentary filmmaker Eva Anisko laid the groundwork for one of the most exciting development of the Karski project: a film version! Anisko, who has earned an Emmy Award for her documentary work, fell in love with the Karski story after seeing the London production. Anisko’s interest and efforts helped The Lab turn the frustration of Covid-19 into an opportunity to produce a feature film based on the play: REMEMBER THIS. Straithairn reprises his role as Karski in this thrilling, devastating, and ultimately inspiring adaptation of Karski’s story. The film is in the works – stay tuned!

David Strathairn on the set of “Remember This” in Brooklyn, NY, July, 2020. Photo by Jeff Hutchens.

The Karski Curriculum: Learning to Bear Witness

In tandem with the theatrical and film productions of Karski, The Lab has been busy bringing the lessons of Jan Karski into the classroom. ‘Bearing Witness: The Legacy of Jan Karski Today’ was first offered to Georgetown undergrads in the fall semester of 2020. Co-designed and co-taught by Derek Goldman, Clark Young, and Ijeoma Njaka, The Lab’s Inclusive Pedagogy Specialist, the course explores how Karski’s life, work, and legacy connect to historical and contemporary issues of advocacy and social justice.  Using Karski’s life and teachings, as well as the play itself, students examine their own relationship to the current historical moment, how individuals may bear witness to history and, following Karski’s example, “shake the conscience of the world.”

Production History

April 2014: My Report to the World, the first iteration of  what is now Remember This, is first presented as part of the Karski Centennial Celebration in Gaston Hall at Georgetown University. This version of the play starred David Strathairn, but unlike Remember This it featured an ensemble cast of Georgetown students.

October/November 2014: My Report to the World is performed in Warsaw as part of the opening of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

December 2014: The play returns to Georgetown for a performance at Gonda Theatre. It also plays on Theater Row in New York City.

June/July 2015: A three-week residency in New York, produced in partnership with the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC, is a great success. This residency includes a one-night-only performance at the Shakespeare Theater Company’s Sidney Harman Hall in DC.

February 2016: My Report to the World is performed for the last time in its original version at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey.

November 2019: Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski premieres at Gaston Hall as the featured performance of the SFS Centennial Celebration. A packed house, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and countless SFS alumni, respond enthusiastically to the production. This version, based on My Report to the World and directed by Derek Goldman, still stars Strathairn, but does not include an ensemble.

January 2020:  Remember This has its international premiere at Queen Mary University in London.

March 2020: Planned performances in Scotland, Poland, New Jersey, and Washington, DC are put on hold by the Covid-19 pandemic.

July 2020: A film version of Remember This, by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Eva Anisko, is filmed in Brooklyn.

October 2020: ‘Bearing Witness: The Legacy of Jan Karski Today,’ a course built around Karski’s life and Remember This, begins meeting.

November 2020: A virtual event featuring David Strathairn in conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attracts a large crowd. Strathairn and Pelosi discuss the Karski story and its relevance to the contemporary political moment.

Upcoming: Premiere of the Remember This film; resumption of life performances as public health situation allows.

David Strathairn and ensemble during a performance on Theater Row (New York, NY) in 2014.