It’s so basic a lesson that it shouldn’t bear repeating. But millions have died for our failure to learn it.
Never regard a human being as anything less than fully human.
That’s the moral of the agonizing, paralyzing story told to Fort Worth students recently in both book form and Broadway-style live performance by concert pianist Mona Golabek.
It’s a hard-won message that Golabek inherited from her mother Lisa Jura, a concert pianist in her own right who escaped the Holocaust as a 14-year-old — one of 10,000 mostly Jewish children moved to England from underneath the Nazi shadow rising over her Austria and elsewhere.
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I can pretty much guarantee that you never had an afternoon assembly like these kids did Nov. 27. In concert with the Dallas Holocaust Museum, the Fort Worth Independent School District staged a one-woman tour de force, oscillating between Golabek’s narration of her mother’s perilous passage into England and adulthood without her family, and Golabek’s Carnegie Hall-quality interludes on a grand piano in which she channeled her mother’s emotions and plights.
The sixth-graders were spellbound — both by Golabek’s dramatic passion and power, and by having also read Golabek’s gripping account of her mother in the book “The Children of Willesden Lane.”
Golabek’s message is as multifaceted as her media: She recalled, for instance, her maternal grandmother’s last exhortation to her mother Lisa as she boarded the now-famous kindertransport to Britain: “Hold on to your music.” You need something to hold on to in the darkest times, she advised the Fort Worth students.
Her overarching, universal, imperative theme, though, is, never regard a human being as anything less than fully human.
The Holocaust, of course, is one of the most horrific examples of humankind’s failure to live by that principle. There are others in the killing-field-covered 20th century alone.
But it’s also a basic moral value that all world leaders should adhere to in their governance of their own people and their dealings with those of other nations.
Again, that precept should be so fundamental that I shouldn’t have to type it out. But is it? Just look at the news. Just read history. Just spend an hour with the daughter of a Holocaust refugee.
I can only hope those sixth-graders have a clue how privileged they were to be treated to Golabek’s one-woman show, which adults around the world pay good money to see. I can’t imagine they’ll get a more valuable lesson all year. Or any year. Or from a more accomplished, authoritative teacher than Mona Golabek.
And I hope her central message of seeing all others as fully human sunk in.
It needs to sink in all over the world. How many atrocities, injustices and deaths could have been prevented by this simple dictum?
Yet even beyond that, it truly is a lesson we can apply to our tranquil, everyday lives. It’s easy to lose sight of our humanity on the other end of a weapon, certainly, but also on the other end of a phone, computer or argument.
A Holocaust survivor I’ve made a significant study of, the legendary psychiatrist and author Viktor Frankl, talked about “rehumanizing” psychiatry, by looking at patients as more than biological mechanisms. Golabek’s goal is more audacious still: rehumanizing humanity.
It’s the simplest thing we could ever do to help the world, and for some reason the most maddeningly difficult.