I think I speak for both my co-writer and husband Leon de Winter and myself when I say we were both touched and scared when the Anne Frank Fund in Basel asked us to write a new theater adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank. She is an icon, her diary is a bible, and the existing play, dated 1955, has been seen by millions of people all over the world. Anne Frank is familiar to all. We all know her diary. We almost know it too well.
The whole world knows it too well.
Or does it?
I mentioned Anne Frank to some young Dutch acquaintances during a dinner party. They carelessly cried out: 'Oh, how wonderful! Anne Frank! What a big story!'
And then there was a weird moment - I heard them say something incredible. At first I was not sure what I heard, because I could not believe it, but I did hear it clearly and loudly: 'What was the story of Anne again? Wasn't she hidden on a farm?'
Well, no, I replied, shocked, and as quiet as I could, 'She lived the last two years of her life in an attic - currently known as The Anne Frank House, remember?'
'Oh, yes, of course...'
A shameful silence grew. And then the unthinkable was said: 'I forgot how she got out...'
Our secret question of anxiety - what was the use of telling this story once more? - seemed to have found an answer.
Anne did get out of the attic, finally. She was dragged out of the attic by Dutch policemen and a Nazi, first taken to transit camp Westerbork and then to Auschwitz. She died in concentration camp Bergen Belsen. So did her sister, and her mother, and all the people she was hiding with in the same attic for two years. Only her father Otto survived.
My husband and I (both children of Holocaust survivors and precoccupied with the Holocaust in our work and lives for as long as we can remember), looked into the material again; into Anne's diary that we thought we knew so well; into the play that we had seen so often. When we re-read the many biographies written about Anne, we discovered new things - so many more fears, thoughts, life, love and dreams that we had forgotten about. We felt, all anew, all gruesome, all grim, the unimaginable horror of the crime that had been bestowed upon Anne, Margot, and the other six million Jews. And we knew a new play was not an abundancy or, worse, vanity. Or useless. It was simply necessary to tell her story again.
Because of the vast array of emotions her diary evoked once more, we decided to focus on what made us the most angry, on what we considered the biggest crime: that she (and so many with her) never got the chance to have a life, not in the least the one she had so meticuously dreamed up for herself in her diary. The crime of the demolition of a dear, sweet life, simply out of random cruelty and barbarous Jew-hatred.
With the passing of time and the accumulation of written testimonies and literature on the topic, we also were fortunate to have a lot more, and a lot more authentic material, at our disposal than the playwrights of 1955 had, the great Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. We had the opportunity to go through the different existing versions of the diary, only published in the year 2000, and we therefore could see where Anne allowed herself to be as blunt as a fourteen-year old can be and where Anne censored herself, one year later.
These things unveiled her personality in a different and more serious way than we had seen in other publications. We also felt that, considering the lack of real knowledge among new generations about the Holocaust in general and Anne's life in particular, we could not leave out the utterly tragic stream of events preceding the hiding in the attic and after the arrest of the Frank family. That's where some publications and stories seem to end - we found we could not leave them out.
Both my husband and I have written many stories and novels in which the Holocaust, or the shadows that it has cast, defined the psychology of our protagonists. Still, working with Anne Frank's diary is one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced, and a very emotional and important personal experience. A new one, since it is also the story of a story being told for so many years, and by so many people. We are looking forward to the staging process we're now entering. We feel a huge responsibility to keep Anne's story and the scandal of her death as touching and big as it should always be.
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