Reading The Diary of Anne Frank was a rite of passage for Jewish girls when I was young. It was captivating, and it illuminated an inconceivable horror through the alert mind and heart of a girl close to my age.
Anne began her diary at 13, in 1942. Like me, she squabbled with her mother sometimes, was envious of an older sibling, crushed on boys, and loved to read and write.
But unlike me, she spent two years hiding from the Nazis in a cramped attic in German-occupied Amsterdam. Outside, the Gestapo was rounding up more than 100,000 Dutch Jews and executing most of them in Nazi concentration camps.
A dramatic version of The Diary of Anne Frank comes to Seattle Children’s Theatre April 4 through May 19. SCT Artistic Director Courtney Sale feels the time is right to introduce it to a new generation.
Sale cites a recent rise in anti-Semitic crimes as well as surveys that show many younger adult respondents know little about the Holocaust, including how many Jews died (six million) or even what Auschwitz was. Sale chose Anne Frank, she says, because, “I truly believe the path to compassion, morality, and understanding occurs when we humanize one another.”
In keenly observant, often witty detail, Anne thoughtfully chronicles the deprivations of hiding out with her family and others, the camaraderie and tensions, a budding romance, and her serious literary ambitions. But when the diary was first published posthumously in 1947, her father, Otto Frank, omitted passages he deemed too personal or disturbing. And as it was translated (into 70 languages) and widely read, one popular quote emphasized Anne’s hopefulness: “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals...Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
In 1944 the Franks were discovered and sent to camps, where Anne, her mother, and sister perished. Still the diary endures, and in its vibrant intimacy the author lives — and, in a sense, triumphs. Her former hideout is now the Anne Frank House museum. The diary inspired a Broadway play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and a hit Hollywood film.
But audiences at SCT won’t see what director Janet Allen calls “the sanitized version” of Anne’s story. In a scathing 1997 New Yorker essay, Jewish author Cynthia Ozick praised the diary as “miraculous, a self-aware work of youthful genius.” But she contended the deletions “infantilized, Americanized, homogenized, and sentimentalized” what was also “a chronicle of trepidation, turmoil, alarm” by a perceptive adolescent who wrote of Jewish friends “being taken away in droves. We assume they’ve been murdered.”
The complete, restored version of the diary is now available. And Wendy Kesselman’s adaptation of the Goodrich-Hackett play coming to SCT adds material to paint Anne in a more realistic light.
Can children (ages 9 and up at SCT) handle the “real” Anne Frank, including her tragic end at Bergen-Belsen in 1945? Yes, stresses director Allen, because the play moves Anne “away from being the hero/martyr and reveals her to be a multifaceted young woman with hang- ups, with anger, with immense frustration.” The revised script is “deeper and more human,” making Anne “easier to empathize with.”
By happenstance, another enlightening play about a remarkable young woman who defied the Nazis will come to North Seattle’s Taproot Theatre March 20 through April 27.
We Will Not Be Silent concerns Sophie Scholl, an idealistic German Catholic college student. In 1942, alarmed by Hitler’s regime, she formed The White Rose group with her brother and friends. They risked their lives dispersing pamphlets urging fellow Germans to nonviolently overthrow the Nazi government.
Scholl was arrested and convicted of treason in 1943. The one-act play — by David Meyers, the grandson of Holocaust survivors — imagines her facing a prison interrogator who presses her to incriminate others.
Meyers, an actor and writer whose works tend to focus on faith and high-stakes decisions, became tormented by the question of whether he could truly give his life for a cause. “The author was broadly influenced by voices around the world calling for freedom and democracy today,” notes Taproot artistic head Scott Nolte. “In the White Rose, I see parallels with Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement, the Parkland students who spoke up for gun control.”
Nolte believes Scholl’s short life and activism can deliver a powerful message to his multigenerational audience. “Young people need to speak up if we elders lose sight of what is right,” he says.
Sophie Scholl, like Anne Frank, passionately believed that, too. “Stand up for what you believe in,” she wrote, “even if you are standing alone.”
The Diary of Anne Frank runs April 4–May 19 at Seattle Children’s Theatre
201 Thomas St., Seattle sct.org
We Will Not Be Silent runs March 20–April 27 at Taproot Theatre’s Jewell Mainstage
204 N 85th St., Seattle taproottheatre.org