The Play (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
In the first scene of the play, Mr. Frank returns alone to Amsterdam; he has been liberated from the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Revisiting the rooms where he last lived with his family, he discovers the diary kept by his daughter Anne. In memory, he returns to their last days together.
All the action of the play unfolds in a secret annex, located on the top floor of a warehouse and office building in Amsterdam, during and immediately after World War II. The Franks are a Jewish family forced to hide from the Nazis, who have occupied Holland. Though originally German, the family fled their native land with the advent of Adolf Hitler and established a profitable business and comfortable domestic life in Amsterdam. Now the Nazis have again disrupted their existence, first by the passage of anti-Semitic laws in Holland and now by the rounding up of Jews for deportation to work and death camps. In their secret annex, located above the offices where Mr. Frank conducted his business, the family has been joined by the three Van Daans. Mr. Van Daan was Mr. Frank’s partner in the spice trade. Later the two families agree to accept Mr. Dussel, a bachelor dentist whom they did not know earlier but whose life is now also threatened.
In the cramped quarters and with the constant fear of betrayal, it is not surprising that tempers flare. Originally, the Franks expected only a few weeks of captivity before liberation by the Allies. However, these weeks...
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Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
The claustrophobic atmosphere of Europe under Nazi threat and the stresses and tensions of hunted Jews hidden in the midst of a thriving city are well conveyed by the single set employed for this full-length drama in two acts and ten scenes. Three small rooms and a tiny attic space alone are visible. Furniture also is sparse: a few chairs, cots, a table. Sounds from the outside—the carillon from the nearby Westertoren church, fragments of the popular song “Lili Marlene” wafting up to the annex, the pounding of marching feet, and snippets of the German language—add to the tension and mood of mounting fear, which culminates when the door to the hiding place, obscured only by a fake bookcase, is broken down and the Nazis thunderously intrude.
The mode of the drama is realistic; the young actress who created the role of Anne (Susan Strasberg) was the daughter of the great American teacher of method acting, Lee Strasberg, and the actor who first portrayed Mr. Frank (Joseph Schildkraut) came from a famous German-Jewish theatrical family. While action in the annex is necessarily limited, the interactions among personalities, Anne’s budding romance, and the minor villainies of Van Daan and Dussel sustain interest. All the while, suspense builds as the hiding place becomes ever more precarious. Even though these people live in the shadow of death, the play retains a measure of humor and joy in family affection. Playwrights Goodrich and Hackett were a...
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Post-World War I Germany
Germany in the post-World War I years experienced veritable social and economic disaster. The new Weimar Republic, created out of the desire to end the war begun under the rule of Kaiser William II, was unpopular with the German people. Many Germans both opposed a republican government and disliked their political leaders for signing the humiliating and costly Versailles Treaty that ended World War I. For the most part, the Germans saw the Weimar Republic as a traitorous government. Germany also experienced extreme economic difficulties. Unemployment soared, and inflation rose so high that paper money derived a greater value sold as waste paper than as currency.
The Weimar Republic held on to power during its first few years, destroying several attempts at revolution, yet the many political parties that formed in the postwar years vehemently opposed the government. The National Socialist German Workers Party, reorganized as the Nazi Party in 1920, held extremely nationalistic, racist, and anticommunist views. With its promises to protect Germany from Communism, it drew the support of many wealthy business leaders and landowners.
Adolf Hitler, an early Nazi recruit, became head of the party by 1921 and led a failed uprising in Munich in 1923. While imprisoned, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), in which he expressed Nazi doctrine of...
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Goodrich and Hackett’s play is based on Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl; thus, it posed the challenge of creating a cohesive narrative out of a series of personal reflections. Instead of being overwhelmed by the disparate nature of diary entries, the playwrights transform the diary into a narrative vehicle. They introduce the families and the hiding place with Anne’s diary entry about the day she and her family left their home. Almost every scene in the play ends with Anne’s voice, reading from her diary. These excerpts serve multiple functions of reminding the audience of the play’s basis, giving Anne’s voice a chance to come through, and allowing the playwrights to summarize events that have taken place between the individual scenes. Anne’s diary entries cover such topics as her relationship with her mother, the atmosphere within the attic, and events taking place in the outside world.
Goodrich and Hackett also incorporated within the text of the play several well-known ideas and passages from the diary. Anne exclaims to her mother, ‘‘If we begin thinking of all the horror in the world, we’re lost! We’re trying to hold on to some kind of ideals … when everything … ideals, hopes … everything, are being destroyed!’’ This speech reflects the passage from Anne’s diary in which she writes, ‘‘It’s difficult in times like...
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Compare and Contrast
- 1930s and 1940s: In 1939, the European Jewish population stands at about 10 million. However, an estimated 6 million European Jews are murdered during the Holocaust. By 1946, the total number of Jews living in Europe has fallen to about 4 million.
Today: In 2000, the world’s Jewish population is estimated at 13.2 million, of which only 1,583,000, or twelve percent, live in Europe. Most Jews live either in the United States or Israel. In most recent years, the worldwide Jewish population has risen slightly but still remains at a statistical zero-population growth.
- 1930s and 1940s: In 1939, before the start of World War II a reported 588,417 Jews live in Germany and 156,817 live in the Netherlands. The majority of these people die at the German concentration camps during the Holocaust.
Today: In 2000, Germany’s Jewish population stands at about 60,000, and the Dutch Jewish population stands at about 30,000.
- 1930s and 1940s: By the beginning of the 1930s, Germany’s Nazi Party has 180,000 members, with supproters from all classes of society and people of all ages. Such increased support helps give the Nazi Party a majority in Germany’s government in 1932. The Nazis and Adolf...
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Topics for Further Study
- Read Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. Compare Anne’s diary describing life in the hiding place with the play adapted from this work. Then write another scene for inclusion in the play. Base your scene on an event that Anne describes and dialogue that she records, if possible.
- Conduct research on World War II. Choose any aspect that relates to The Diary of Anne Frank, such as the deportation of Amsterdam’s Jews, the German conquest of Holland, the Allied invasion of the European continent, or the concentration camps.
- Imagine that you were directing a stage production of the play. Describe your vision of the production. What would the attic look like? What kinds of mannerisms would define the characters? Describe the types of actors you would want to play Anne and Mr. Frank.
- Create an illustration that shows the world as Anne might have seen it while she was in hiding. Illustrations may focus on the attic or anything that she learns about events in the outside world.
- Write a poem that Anne might have written about life in the concentration camp.
- Conduct research to find out how critics responded to The Diary of Anne Frank when it first appeared on stage in 1955, as well as how critics responded to the revamped version of the play, which was staged in 1997. How have attitudes about the play changed over the...
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What Do I Read Next?
- Anne Frank began to keep a diary only a short time before her family went into hiding, and she chronicled her experiences until August 4, 1944, when she and the others were taken away by the Gestapo. Otto Frank was given his daughter’s diary after the war ended and the concentration camps had been liberated. At the urging of friends, he published Anne’s diary in Holland in 1947. The Diary of Anne Frank has since become an international classic.
- Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo (1995) is eleven-year-old Zlata Filipovic’s diary describing her life in Sarajevo. Begun in 1992, before war broke out, Zlata’s diary turns from daily activities to the hardships and deprivations of living under siege.
- Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s List (1993) is a work of fiction based on the true-life story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who sheltered and employed Jews in his factories to prevent their being sent to the concentration camps. Schindler’s courageous actions saved more than one thousand Jews from almost certain death in the gas chambers.
- In 1944, Swedish businessman Raoul Wallenberg sheltered as many as 35,000 Hungarian Jews from the Gestapo while serving in Budapest as a Swedish diplomat. Letters and Dispatches, 1924–1944 (1996) is a primary source account of his heroic actions.
- A Holocaust Reader (1976), edited by Lucy...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Atkinson, Brooks. ‘‘Theatre: The Diary of Anne Frank,’’ in New York Times, October 6, 1956.
Ehrlich, Evelyn. ‘‘Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett,’’ in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 26: American Screenwriters, Gale Research, 1984, pp. 129–34.
Evans, Greg. ‘‘The Diary of Anne Frank,’’ in Variety, Vol. 369, No. 5, December 8, 1997, p. 119.
Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl, edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler, translated by Susan Massotty. Doubleday, 1991.
Hoagland, Molly Magid. ‘‘Anne Frank, On and Off Broadway,’’ in Commentary, Vol. 105, No. 3, March 1998, p. 58.
Kerr, Walter. ‘‘Anne Frank Shouldn’t Be Anne’s Play,’’ in New York Times, January 7, 1979.
---. Review of The Diary of Anne Frank, in New York Herald Tribune, as quoted on ‘‘Anne Frank Online,’’ http:// www.annefrank.com/site/af_student/study_STORY. htm (October 10, 2001).
Taylor, Markland. ‘‘The Diary of Anne Frank,’’ in Variety, Vol. 369, No. 1, November 10, 1997, p. 53.
Dawidowicz, Lucy C. The War against the Jews: 1933–1945. Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1991. This reissue edition provides a thorough history of the origins and development of the...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Bloom, Harold, ed. A Scholarly Look at “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999.
Kopf, Hedda Rosner. Understanding Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl.” Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997.
Lindever, Willy. The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank. New York: Anchor, 1992.
Melnick, Ralph. The Stolen Legacy of Anne Frank: Meyer Levin, Lillian Hellman, and the Shaping of the Diary. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1997.
Miller, Melissa. Anne Frank: The Biography. New York: Henry Holt, 1998.
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