The Children of Willesden Lane: Thoughts from Our Audience

From an earlier blog about the importance of personal testimonies in teaching the Holocaust, to the many other communications you may have received about last week’s program, you probably know a bit about this recent, enormous initiative already. Here’s a recap:

From October 28-30, Urban Gateways welcomed 6,200 Chicago students and teachers representing 45 schools and 27 zip codes to the Harris Theater for Music and Dance to experience Mona Golabek’s amazing show, “The Children of Willesden Lane.” All of these students and teachers had read and studied the book (and teachers had attended professional development about teaching the text) previous to the show; the matinee performances at the Harris brought the story of Lisa Jura to life. Lisa was Mona Golabek’s mother; when she was a fourteen-year-old blossoming pianist in Vienna, she was forced to flee to London to escape the Nazi invasion. In London, she pursued her dream to become a professional musician despite the traumas of the war and her separation from her family. Mona’s musical retelling is emotional and captivating. (We opened this show to the public for a benefit performance the evening of October 29: Just under 7,000 people in total saw “The Children of Willesden Lane” last week.)

But what we’re really here to share are some of the wonderful reactions we heard from students and teachers about this program: See below. (Please note that photos don’t necessarily coincide with quotes.)

“We can connect with Lisa based on the violence she faced during the Holocaust, which is like the violence we deal with every day. In our neighborhood, gangs discriminate on the color of clothes or side of the city you come from. [This] story is important to us because we are living a somewhat modern Holocaust based on the violence in our neighborhoods. [From] the colors we wear to the streets we walk on, it is hard not knowing if it’s going to be our last day. People we grew up with and people we went to school with are dying [at] the hands of another person…But, we try to make small changes. People have a choice to live or die in our society. We choose to live and carry on, much like Lisa.” -Student, Peace & Education Coalition – Second Chance Campus

“I’ve never heard a live piano before. It was amazing!”

-Student, Muchin College Prep, the Noble Network of Charter Schools

“Students wrote reflections about the experience and it was overwhelmingly positive. They were marked by the courage of Lisa and the talents of Mona. Some students thought it must be a recording since no one could really play the piano that well.”

-Teacher, Kellogg Elementary School

“Students made a connection to the events in the book and events in Syria. We discussed how back then people were forced to leave their homes and that it is still happening now.”

-Teacher, Hibbard Elementary School

“We had a class discussion about Lisa leaving a safe place, where she was making money, and able to start a new life to go after her mother’s dream for her. She knew she owed it to her mother to play the piano. Students made awesome connections about what the adults in their life want for them and discussed their obligation to fulfill their hopes and dreams. The class decided they have a personal responsibility to be GREAT!”

-Teacher, Wendell Smith Elementary School

“Arts, sports, computer science, whatever it is, you hold on to it. It’s a tough world we live in…Find your passion. Find the thing that gets you through.”

-Mona Golabek

Photos by Alayna Kudalis and Brian Foster.

See more photos from this incredible program HERE. >>


Thanks to the many sponsors that made this program possible, including:


Fay Hartog-Levin and Daniel Levin

Elaine and Allan Muchin