Theatre star peels back a layer of family history
The star of the hit show The Pianist of Willesden Lane has revealed how archives made available by World Jewish Relief have uncovered even more about her family history than she knew when she first wrote the play. Mona Golabek spoke about how emotional it was to discover the previously unseen documents which detail her mother’s arrival on the Kindertransport in the late 1930s. Mona only became aware of the papers, which have been digitised by the charity, after her first performance in London earlier this year.
Her one-woman stage show tells the story of her mother’s escape from Vienna on the Kindertransport as a young girl and a gifted pianist. The theatre star gave an impromptu performance at the World Jewish Relief Archive Roadshow at JW3 on Sunday 25 September, interspersing the music with reflections on how the characters in her stage show came alive when she saw their names on the documents.
Historian Mike Levy spoke about the role of the Central British Fund, which later became World Jewish Relief, and its role in rescuing 65,000 people from Nazi occupied Europe, including 10,000 on the Kindertransport, and helping them to settle in Britain. The recently digitised archives contain the records of 35,000 of these people – including birth certificates, immigration papers and school records which were kept by the charity.
The audience was full of people with similarly moving experiences about how the digitised archives revealed previously unknown stories about their families. One man had been persuaded by his daughter to learn more about his parents’ history and when their case files were found he discovered a whole tranche of his family that he knew nothing about. A first cousin living just a few minutes from his home and who he hadn’t known existed, joined him at the roadshow.
Mona Golabek was so moved by the discovery of the archives that she held a gala evening in aid of World Jewish Relief’s refugee crisis appeal earlier this month which raised £2,642.57 and was attended by celebrities including Maureen Lipman.
The success of the Archive Roadshow will see it launched in other parts of the country later this year.
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