Mona Golabek on facing life’s great challenges

Concert pianist, author and inspirational speaker Mona Golabek has thanked the “brave and kind British people” for taking her mother and other unaccompanied Jewish children from Austria, Germany and Eastern Europe in 1938.  “I would not be here today but for the kindness the British people showed to my mother,” she said.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Golabek explains how her mother Lisa’s experience as a child refugee inspired her book The Children of Willesden Lane and subsequent one-woman show The Pianist of Willesden Lane.

“I decided to write The Children of Willesden Lane because I thought it could inspire young readers to a very important message: What do you hold on to in life when facing great challenges?” she said in the article, which drew awareness to her recent appearance at the Pureland Series at London’s China Exchange in February 2017.

Golabek’s mother Lisa Jura was 14 when she was offered a place on the Kindertransport scheme which brought 10,000 minors to the UK, placing them in foster homes.  A musical prodigy, Lisa was chosen by her father to take the one place he could secure, in the hope she would be able to pursue her dreams of a career as a concert pianist. Her mother told her on the day she left Vienna: “Lisa, hold on to your music, and I will be with you every step of the way through the music.”

Settled in Willesden Lane Orphanage, Lisa’s music inspired the other children, and they, in turn, cheered her on in her efforts to make good on her promise to her family to realize her musical potential. Through hard work and sheer pluck, Lisa won a scholarship to study piano at the Royal Academy. As she supported herself and studies, Lisa dreamt of reconnecting with the family she was forced to leave behind.

Golabek says: “My mother, Lisa Jura, was my best friend and my teacher. She taught my sister Renee and I to play the piano. But those lessons were more than just piano lessons; they were lessons in life. She would always say to me “Mona, each piece of music tells a story.” And in those piano lessons, she told me the story of her life.”

It was a story Golabek felt compelled to share; since its publication, thousands of students across America have read the book. “We connect with Lisa and the violence she faced,” a high school student from Chicago told Golabek, and then added, “If Lisa can do it, I can do it.”

In the article, Golabek says: “I truly believe that my mother’s story and that of the generous spirit of the people who gave her refuge couldn’t be timelier. The tragedy of what we see repeating itself in today’s refugee crisis is heart-breaking. I tell my mother’s story because we need to remind ourselves of man’s humanity to man.”