Revisiting an Icon

October 3, 2017


anne-frank-school-1940-2You’d think that, over that extended period, everything that was to be known about the now-famous 15 year-old diarist would have been uncovered. But you’d be wrong.

Every year, there are new insights about Anne Frank, who wrote about her two years (1942-1944) sequestered in a small, cramped Annex, behind a movable bookcase, above her father’s workplace, crowded in with seven other people in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam.

The reason for the Frank family’s arrest remains unclear. Were they betrayed? By whom? A slew of investigations have revealed no definitive answer.

Then, just last year, the issue was revisited by historian Gertjan Broek of the Anne Frank House. He found that it took at least two hours for the Nazi officers to search the house and apprehend the Annex inhabitants. This, says Broek, implies that they could not have been looking for hidden Jews; that would have taken much less time.

Broek learned that the investigators who arrested the Franks were not assigned to hunt down Jews, but were dispatched to root out “economic violations.” Anne herself referred to the increasing difficulty the family’s helpers had in obtaining illegal ration cards. Some of them had already been arrested.

The family, thinks Broek, was more likely discovered inadvertently during the investigation into ration card fraud. It’s still possible, he concedes, that there was also a betrayal.

Another recent finding questions the date of Anne’s death. It was believed that, if she and her sister Margot, both ravaged by typhus, could have held on a few more weeks, they would have lived until their camp was liberated by British troops on April 15, 1945. But new data suggests that they probably died in February, not March, much earlier than the liberation.

It seems likely that research will continue, given Anne’s lasting significance in global popular culture. She remains a figure of resistance and courage in the face of unthinkable horror.

Her beloved father, Otto Frank, the only Annex inhabitant who survived, later discovered that the red plaid diary that he’d given Anne for her 13th birthday in 1942, had been saved by those who had protected the family. Moved by Anne’s concern with her legacy and aspiration of becoming an author (“I want to go on living even after my death,” she wrote), Otto had the book published as “The Diary of a Young Girl” in 1947 (1952 in English, with an introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt). It has since been translated into more than 60 languages.

As time went on in the Annex, Anne edited her book. Otto later made additional changes, deleting the parts about Anne’s budding sexuality, and her fraught relationship with her mother. After Otto died in 1980, some of his edits were restored. There are now several versions of the diary in print.

Today, the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, opened to the public in 1960, is visited by nearly a million people a year. It’s a chilling experience climbing up to that attic, walking in that space, trying to conceive of what life must have been like there for eight disparate people who often didn’t get along.

Fifty years after her death, Anne Frank was listed among Time Magazine’s Most Important People of the 20th Century. Her diary, revered as much for her emotional/psychological insight as for her stellar writing, inspired a ballet, a choral work and several plays and films.

The most popular of the dramatic works is “The Diary of Anne Frank,” adapted by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, which premiered in New York in 1955, and won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Anne Frank

Six years ago, actor/director Kym Pappas helmed a gut-wrenching production of the play at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. One of the staff members of Moxie Theatre saw that show, and never forgot it. When the drama was chosen for the Moxie season, Pappas was approached.

“I’d never considered directing the play again,” says Pappas. who was among the founding members of ion theater and is now co-artistic director of InnerMission Productions. “That first production was part of an intern program for high school students that I’ve run for 11 years. Interns served as actors (among some very high-profile adult performers) and designers.

“Of course,” Kym continues, “it’s a necessary story to tell. But I wasn’t sure it was my story to tell. I wasn’t sure, not being Jewish, it was my place.”

She could be considered an ‘honorary Jew,’ though. Her stepfather, who raised her, was Jewish. Her unofficially ‘adopted mom’ is Marilyn Veljeznjak, who was a high school drama teacher Kym assisted.

Kym had a very abusive childhood. Marilyn and her Jewish family helped save her.

“I call Marilyn and her husband ‘my other parents.’ We’ve been through a lot together. They are my closest connection.”

But her awful early years shaped her.

“My whole foundation and structure were built on that. It definitely made me more sensitive, and aware of other people’s pain. My experiences propelled me into theater. For a while onstage, I could escape my life and be someone else.”

Years later, Marilyn was the first to suggest to Kym that she would be an outstanding director.

Kym remains grateful. “She was the first one who saw that in me.”

Fifteen years ago, when Marilyn welcomed Kym into her family, she was included in all family occasions, including the Jewish holidays.

This year, Marilyn helped with the Hebrew, the songs and the holidays written into the play. Kym and her cast have been invited to meet with the Religious Committee at Tifereth Israel Synagogue.

“I wanted to be sure that everything in this production was right and historical,” asserts Kym. “I’ve never directed a play twice,” she confesses. “In my heart and head, this play looks and feels a very specific way to me. I didn’t know if I could see things differently.

“As soon as the audition process began, those fears disappeared,” Kym says. “There’s a reason this play came back into my life. I feel excited and very, very lucky to get to be in the room again with this play. Especially right now, when the world is crazy.”

(We spoke not long after the appalling display of racism and anti-Semitism in Charlottesville, VA).

“I keep thinking,” says Kym, “‘What has gotten us to this point?’ I look around and I say, ‘Wait! Haven’t we been paying attention? Haven’t we learned anything?’ It’s terrifying. Hard to believe, to fathom, that this is happening right now.”

Years ago, she recalls, when she was in high school, she was exposed to plays that “made us ask questions.” Plays like “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“I grew up in Imperial Beach,” Kym says. “There was a large group of white supremacists there. Before opening night, they papered the school with hundreds of little papers with swastikas on them. We had a police presence on campus throughout the run of the show.

“This heightened our awareness. And that memory, from 1996, reaffirms how necessary it is to get people in a room and get to their hearts with this play.

“For me,” Kym says, “theater is the way I’ve been given to effect any kind of change. Right now especially, we need to be reminded. We need this story. We need to honor these people. And once again I ask, ‘How did the world turn their backs on this for so long?’”

“Anne” comes to Moxie

Kym, who continues to appear onstage, is considered to be ‘an actor’s director.’ She’s thrilled with the “amazing cast and brilliant team of designers” for this production.

Anne is being played by 15 year-old Jewish actor Katelyn Katz. Three years ago, she was electrifying as Scout in the New Village Arts production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“She’s feisty, energetic, and pretty magical in the role,” says Kym.

The rest of the cast features local favorites, including Eddie Yaroch (Otto Frank), Wendy Waddell (Mrs. Frank) and Jonathan Sachs (Mr. Van Daan).

As for the Nazi officers who make the arrest near the end of the play, Kym was definitive about wanting them to be played by young men of high school age or slightly older.

“So many of those Nazis were so young,” she says. “Those beliefs were instilled at a very young age.”

When the actors came together for the first time, Kym asked each of them why it was important to them to tell this story.

“There were a lot of tears, and a lot of passion, in that discussion.”

Every actor, she says, “brings their own background and history to the table. I know that, through this collaborative process, they’ll teach me something about the story.

“Each of those six million people had a life, a story. Who were they? What could they have done for the world? All of us lost collectively when we lost those people.”

Kym’s awareness has heightened since she last directed “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

“My initial connection to current events was about the worldwide refugee crisis. Now, it’s this other horrible thing that’s happening, this kind of hate. We’re seeing it on our own streets right now. We cannot let this happen again.”

Those words echo the precept most Jews live by: Never again. Α


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