The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

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 stretch into more than eighteen months. The Van Daans constantly fight, and Mr. Van Daan is caught stealing more than his share of their limited food supply. The spirited Anne is obliged to share her small room with the stuffy Mr. Dussel. She experiences the perplexities of puberty, while conflicts with her mother and rivalry with her sister seem intensified in these dire circumstances. There are, however, two consolations. The first is Peter Van Daan, a sensitive youth who has smuggled his beloved cat into the annex and who is attuned to Anne’s emotions. The second comfort is Anne’s ever-present diary, to which she faithfully confides her daily experiences, her fears, and her hopes for the future.

The inhabitants of the annex attempt to establish some routines of daily life. During daylight hours they must move in stocking feet, speak only in whispers, and refrain from using the lavatory, for fear of revealing their hiding place to the employees below in the warehouse. At night they are able to play games, listen to the radio—especially to reports of Allied offensives—and argue among themselves. Books are brought to them, along with basic provisions, by Miep and Mr. Kraler, faithful employees who are risking their own lives by aiding these fugitives. The young people pursue their studies, under the tutelage of Mr. Frank. Anne shows special aptitude for literature and languages.

Although all the inhabitants of the annex are assimilated Jews, who have always regarded themselves as citizens of the countries in which they have lived, the Nazis have made their Jewish identity central. Anne shows affection for the conspicuous emblem the Nazis have forced them to wear on their coats, which is, as she says, “after all, the Star of David.” The little group celebrates Hanukkah, with gifts Anne is able to improvise from the meager objects at hand. Mrs. Frank, who is the most religiously observant, reads Psalm 121. Yet precisely on the night of this holiday, a burglar invades the warehouse and hears their celebration. Not long after, just as they had feared, alerted German officers break into the annex. As they are all carted away to the concentration camps, Mr. Frank attempts to console them: “For the past two years we have lived in fear. Now we can live in hope.”

In the play’s final scene, Mr. Frank, the little group’s sole survivor of the Nazi camps, is glimpsed again in the annex. He turns the pages of his daughter’s diary and hears again Anne’s voice saying, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”