Remember This review: David Strathairn lives in history

Among the penetrating eyewitness accounts presented in “Shoah,” Claude Lanzmann’s seminal 1985 nine-hour documentary that narrates the Holocaust through the testimonies of those who experienced it, was reluctant participant Jan Karski.

Neither Jewish nor German, survivor or perpetrator, Karski was a Polish diplomat-turned-resistance fighter, serving as a “tape recorder, camera and messenger,” reporting the horrors of the Holocaust to the outside world, where his insights often fell on deaf ears and blind eyes.

His remarkable, all-too-relevant story is brought poignantly to life in Jeff Hutchens and Derek Goldman’s Remember This, conveyed in the unique form of a filmed stage play starring David Strathairn in a tour de force solo performance.

The production is theatrical in just the right way, and is photographed in black and white on a bare set shared only by a spartan wooden table and two chairs, giving the well-known character actor a huge canvas on which to narrate Karski’s fateful experience.

“People have an infinite ability to ignore things that aren’t comfortable,” Karski asserts straight into the camera of Strathairn, an observation that also applied to his reluctance to relive his own oppressed past until a stubborn lanceman caught him tracked down and convinced him to share details he hadn’t even told his wife.

Displaying impressive physical dexterity, Strathairn takes the viewer on a terrifying journey through hard labor in POW camps (where Karski was interned by the Red Army), transporting shipments for the Polish underground, and torture at the hands of the Gestapo.

But it’s only after touring the Warsaw Ghetto firsthand and observing a transit camp that he learns another disturbing truth as he leaks his alarming reports to Western allies, including a smoking President Roosevelt who seems more concerned about the Nazis the confiscation of peasant horses as the extermination of Polish Jews.

The original stage production, Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski, written by educators Goldman and Clark Young, became Karski’s 100 Immigrant-Taught Courses in International Relations and Polish History.

The filmed version, recorded for PBS’s “Great Performances,” is a study in elegant and eloquent minimalism, captivating the viewer with simple fragments of sound—church bells, chirping birds, marching soldiers, train whistles—and strong, monochromatic lighting Clues that reflect the moral ambiguities that surrounded Karski’s journey.

While Strathairn masterfully embodies this self-described “insignificant little man” as well as the dozens of characters he interacts with along his journey, he also conveys the prevailing frustration and helplessness of an individual who was ultimately unable to grasp the world of the one to come To persuade annihilation while there was still time to prevent it.

“It’s haunting me right now,” Karski laments. “And I want it to be.”

Despite his perceived flaws, Karski and “Remember This” serve as a crucial reminder of society’s duty to bear witness, particularly whenever and wherever it seems impossible to raise one’s voice above the din of indifference.

‘Remember that’

Not rated

Duration: 1 hour 35 minutes

Play: Lammle Monica, Santa Monica Remember This review: David Strathairn lives in history

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