A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS
BY JANET ALLEN, EXECUTIVE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
Given the schedule of our publications calendar, I find myself writing about The Diary of Anne Frank just a few days after the shootings at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, which left 11 Jewish worshippers dead. One of Tree of Life’s congregants, Judah Samet, who was caught in the crossfire, heard the shooter screaming anti-Semitic curses as he fired his semiautomatic rifle. Samet, who was not injured, had heard and seen these things before: he survived Bergen-Belsen Concentration camp (the same camp where Anne and Margot Frank died). In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Samet said: “I know not to depend on humanity.” In reading that, I couldn’t help but think that, had she survived, Anne Frank could have been one of those 92-year-old worshippers in Pittsburgh.
We are reminded far too often these days of the extent to which humanity betrays itself with violence and hate. The commonness of it grows overwhelming. My family made a pilgrimage to Auschwitz last December: the steel-gray skies and snow-covered grounds made it very easy to feel the horror that engulfed its inhabitants. Yet at the same time, the experience is numbing, incomprehensible, all too easy to push away.
Today, the Holocaust is taught in some circles merely as one more in a long line of history’s genocides, and not the most recent at that. It is perhaps easy to wonder if Anne Frank’s message still resonates. Even in 2011 when we last produced this play, we were shocked by the number of people who asked, in post-show discussions, if the events of the play were based on actual history. How is it possible that anyone could question that? Is Anne’s diary fading as the totem of history’s worst catastrophe of hate? I don’t think so.
But Anne’s diary (like the play) isn’t about hate or even about anti-Semitic rhetoric: it’s about a young teenager coming of age in circumstances made very restricted and, ultimately, tragic, by hate, but who is overwhelmingly caught up in living. And therein lies the power of her story which, in fact, is full of surging, searching, youthful thoughts. In the words of biographer Francine Prose:
Perhaps more than any other book, Anne’s diary reminds us of what bewilderment and yearning were like. The diary entries become a sort of mirror in which teenagers, male and female, can see themselves—a capsule description of the alienation, the loneliness, and the torrents of free-floating grief that define adolescence in 20th century Western culture. Older readers will recognize familiar but forgotten echoes from their own pasts as Anne describes her inability to breach the wall that separates her from others. Younger readers may experience an almost eerie kinship with a girl who died so long ago but who is saying what no one has expressed quite so succinctly. Of course, she is writing about eight Jews forced by the Nazis to spend two years in an attic. But she is also describing what it is like to be young.
Anne’s delight in life, her belief in the possibility of her own remarkable future, makes the diary, and the play based on it, all the more poignant these days. Not just because there is a horrible rise of anti-Semitic behavior and rhetoric in our polarized country, but because we are witnessing the end of an era in which the people who survived the Holocaust are alive to tell us about it. Again, from Francine Prose:
In a few more years, no one alive will have witnessed the scene of a Nazi arresting a Jew. There have been, and will be, other arrests and executions for the crime of having been born into a particular race or religion or tribe. But the scene of Nazis hunting down Jews is unlikely to happen again, though history teaches us never to say never. This [the arrest of the Franks and Van Daans] will be the arrest that future generations can visualize…. They will have to remind themselves that it happened to real people, though these people have survived and will live on, as characters in a book.
There is no question that we produce a play like this to put a human face on genocide—for art to stir empathy and understanding in all of us, from children to the elders for whom the Holocaust is more vivid. We produce it with the same unswerving commitment to quality in art-making that we commit to all our work, believing that through that commitment to quality—in creating a captivating, authentic experience for our audiences—we can further move audiences to say what the Jewish people have said for 70 years: “never again.” Never again to any acts of hatred that marginalize a people defined by race, religion, or tribe. Art can change lives. For those who may believe that the Holocaust is a waning historical moment, rather than a frighteningly vivid and recurring symptom of humanity’s worst attributes, we hope this production can bring understanding and awakening.
For more information on The Diary of Anne Frank, presented by Glick Philanthropies, and ticket options, click here.
The IRT produces top-quality, professional theatre that engages, surprises, challenges and entertains people throughout their lifetimes, helping to build a vital and vibrant community.
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