One of the most important and poignant examples of writing in modern history was the diary maintained by a young girl hiding in Holland with her family from the German soldiers occupying that country during World War II. Anne Frank’s diary, discovered after she, her family, and another family sharing their small hiding place in the home of an employee of her father’s business, were captured and sent to their deaths (Anne’s father, Otto, being the sole survivor) in German concentration camps, was originally published as Diary of a Young Girl, but has since become known simply as The Diary of Anne Frank. Anne’s diary is a fascinating and enormously sorrowful – especially since we know the outcome before we start reading it – account both of these two families efforts’ to survive the war and the Nazi occupation and of Anne’s transition from young girl to young woman (she died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the age of 15). Anne’s diary was adapted into a play by Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett, premiering on Broadway in October 1955. It has since been produced in theaters all over the world and remains a regular production.
Goodrich and Hackett’s play is told in the “flashback” narrative style, with the opening scene depicting Otto Frank receiving from his old employee and protector Miep Gies the diary the latter has recovered from items left following the Frank family’s capture and deportation to the death camps. Frank has initially resisted receiving any tangible reminder of this terrible period, during which he lost his wife and children, but accepts Anne’s diary, triggering the memories that begin the play’s dramatization of the contents of the diary. The play, then, is the diary’s depiction of Anne’s observations, including her resentments, ambitions, infatuations, and frustrations at her and her family’s situation. Interestingly, Anne, who aspired to a literary future, did not simply write entries into the diary; rather, she wrote “letters” to a fictional friend named “Kitty.” (There were fictional recipients of these “letters,” but the personage of “Kitty” definitely assumed a higher status to whom Anne confided her deepest thoughts, including about her budding sexuality.)
The second family hiding with the Franks, the van Pels, include a boy, Peter, who similarly matured during their years of mutual confinement and in whom Anne confided a great deal, only to wonder during the later period of hiding whether Peter was who she hoped he could be. The play adapts entries of the diary and turns them into monologues, one of the most important of which draws from the most oft-cited entry in Anne’s diary, that of Saturday, July 15,1944:
“It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
In the play, this passage is adapted to include a representation of Anne’s thoughts concerning not just the nature of humanity, but her wishes for what Peter could have been:
“I wish you had a religion, Peter. Oh, I don't mean you have to be Orthodox, or believe in heaven and hell and purgatory and things. I just mean some religion. It doesn't matter what. Just to believe in something! When I think of all that's out there. The trees. And flowers. And seagulls. When I think of the dearness of you, Peter. And the goodness of people we know. Mr. Kraler, Miep, Dirk, the vegetable man, all risking their lives for us everyday. When I think of these good things, I'm not afraid any more. I find myself, and God, and I... We're not the only people that've had to suffer. There've always been people that've had to. Sometimes one race, sometimes another, and yet...I know it's terrible, trying to have any faith when people are doing such horrible things, but you know what I sometimes think? I think the world may be going through a phase, the way I was with Mother. It'll pass, maybe not for hundreds of years, but some day I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart. Peter, if you'd only look at it as part of a great pattern? That we're just a little minute in the life? (She breaks off) Listen to us, going at each other like a couple of stupid grownups! Look at the sky now. Isn't it lovely?”
Goodrich and Hackett sought to retain the vital elements of Anne Frank’s diary while adapting it into a different format. Vital to that effort was the use of internal monologues to substitute for some of the diary’s more personal entries. The story, however, remains the same – that of a young girl forced into hiding with her family solely because of their religion only to be betrayed and sent to live under inhumane conditions until murdered by their jailers.