The Play

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 693

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.

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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.”

Dramatic Devices

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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 husband-wife team previously known for Broadway comedies and Hollywood musicals such as Easter Parade (1948) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). The skill with which they constructed The Diary of Anne Frank, injecting it with domestic warmth and pacing its action, has been much admired.

Because the play is about actual people who lived in traumatic historical times, the last scene, which forms an epilogue, was essential. Mr. Frank tells the audience how his wife and daughter, and all the others, perished in the camps, even as the end was in sight, with the liberating British and American troops sweeping through France and beyond. Millions of other lives were lost during the Holocaust; the people who managed to survive the camps were displaced, their lives irrevocably changed. Some never overcame their bitterness, remaining Hitler’s victims all their lives. Yet Goodrich and Hackett do not choose to leave their audience with this bitter message. Their play is not a tragedy; it celebrates the triumph of Anne’s spirit. Her father’s last words are “She puts me to shame.”

Historical Context

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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 obtaining more land for the German people. After his release from prison, Hitler’s ideas—which included the repeal of the Versailles Treaty and the restoration of lost German territory—along with his charismatic speeches, attracted many Germans to the Nazi program. With the Great Depression even more economically hard-hit German voters came to embrace the Nazi platform. By 1932, the Nazis held 230 seats in the Reichstag, the German legislature; however, this was not enough to give the Nazis control of the government. By January 1933, when it appeared that no other party could successfully form a government, the president of the Republic appointed Hitler chancellor. After a fire was set in the Reichstag building the following month, Hitler used his emergency powers to seize complete dictatorial control of the country.

Nazism and Anti-Semitism
Under Hitler’s rule, Germany turned into a police state in which the Gestapo, a secret-police force, held wide-ranging powers to round up anyone who opposed them. Liberals, socialists, and Communists were seen as Nazi enemies. Jews, members of the so-called inferior races, also suffered severe persecution. In 1935, the Nazis instituted a series of laws against Jews, called the Nuremberg Laws, which stripped them of citizenship and forbade them from marrying Christian Germans. Jews were excluded from civil service jobs, and over time, from other professions as well. In some cities, Jews were forced to live in ghettos. In November 1938, persecution against the Jews erupted in nationwide violence. Germans set fire and otherwise damaged Jewish synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses; practically every Jewish synagogue was destroyed. By the beginning of World War II Jews could not attend public schools, engage in some businesses, own land, associate with non-Jews, or even go to parks, libraries, or museums. They were also forced to live in ghettos. By 1941, Jews were not allowed to use the telephone and public transportation systems, and Jews over six years old were forced to prominently display the yellow Star of David on their clothing. Europe did little to help the Jews, and many Jews tried to leave the continent. From 1931 to 1941, for example, 161,262 immigrant Jews were admitted to the United States, and tens of thousands escaped to British-ruled Palestine. Some Jews also moved to other countries in Europe.

The Netherlands and World War II
At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, when the German army invaded Poland, the Dutch maintained their neutrality. However, their sympathies lay with the Allied powers, which at the time comprised only Great Britain and France. After the conquest of Poland, the German army invaded and seized Scandinavia and then turned its sights west. On May 10, 1940, German armored units invaded the Low Countries—the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The Netherlands fell in five days. The Dutch city of Rotterdam put up strong resistance, and even while the country’s surrender was being negotiated, the German air force leveled the center of the city. The government, as well as the royal family, fled to England, where they formed a government in exile.

The Nazis established a Jewish Council to oversee all Jewish affairs. The Germans then set about separating Jews from the non-Jewish Dutch population, then confiscated Jewish property, and finally started deporting Jews to the concentration camps and work camps. A resistance movement sprang up, but the Germans retaliated against protests harshly. When dockworkers in Amsterdam went on strike to prevent the deportation of Dutch Jews, the Germans responded by executing Dutch hostages. Some Jews were able to go into hiding, but most were deported to the concentration camps. As the end of the war drew near and the Allies drew closer to Germany, the Dutch suffered from severe food shortages, and during the last months before the end of the war in May 1945, they were near famine.

Literary Style

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 602

Diary
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 these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality.’’ Anne also writes in her diary of her life’s goals: ‘‘I can shake off everything if I write. But … and that is the great question … will I ever be able to write well? I want to so much. I want to go on living even after my death.’’ This excerpt corresponds to Anne’s entry in her diary, ‘‘I want to go on living after my death! And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and writing, of expressing all that is in me!’’

Narrative
The ten-scene play encompasses just over two years, spanning the period of time from July 1942, when the Franks go into hiding, to August 1944, when the Gestapo take them away. The play primarily follows a straightforward chronology, the exceptions being the first and last scenes, both of which take place in November 1945 on the day that Mr. Frank returns to the attic. These two scenes act as ‘‘bookends’’ for the play. The first scene introduces Anne, her family, her diary, and the situation that drove them into hiding. The last scene serves to conclude the drama. Miep reports that it was the thief who reported the occupancy in the attic, and Mr. Frank reports that, of the group, he is the sole survivor.

Characters
Many of the characters in the play represent archetypes more than they portray real, three-dimensional people. Mr. Frank is the sage of the group. He is kind, good, and patient. Everyone turns to him to make the final decision in any difficult situation. He also tries to put a more hopeful spin on their capture by the Gestapo: ‘‘For the past two years we have lived in fear,’’ he says. ‘‘Now we can live in hope.’’ Margot is the epitome of a good girl. She is obedient and well behaved. She helps her mother cook dinner, lends Anne her high heels, and remains unfazed by Anne’s budding relationship with Peter. Mrs. Frank holds out Margot as the exemplar. Peter Van Daan is the shy boy who slowly learns to open up to a peer.

Compare and Contrast

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  • 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 Hitler remain in power until 1945, when World War II ends.

    1990s: The 1990s have seen a resurgence of Nazi ideology. Neo-Nazis uphold such beliefs as anti-Semitism and a hatred of foreigners. Neo-Nazi doctrine tends to draw young people in countries around the world to participate in these hate groups. In Germany, neo-Nazi youths have called for the restoration of a national Nazi regime.

Media Adaptations

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  • The Diary of Anne Frank, a film adaptation of the play, was released in 1959. It stars Millie Perkins and Shelley Winters and was directed by George Stevens. It is available on VHS and DVD.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources
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.

Further Reading
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 Holocaust. Dawidowicz offers a concise overview of Nazism and also delves into the daily lives of the Jews under growing anti- Semitism.

Gies, Miep, and Alison Leslie Gold. Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family. Simon & Schuster, 1998. Gies recalls what it was like to shelter the Frank family and the other Jews while living under the Nazi regime.

Lindwer, Willy. The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank. Anchor, 1992. Lindwer’s work covers the final months of Anne’s life from the time she and the others were taken from their attic hiding place to her death in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Melnick, Ralph. The Stolen Legacy of Anne Frank: Meyer Levin Lillian Hellman and the Staging of the Diary. Yale University Press, 1997. Levin, a best-selling author, was instrumental in bringing Anne’s story to the stage. He wrote the first adaptation of the diary, one that was faithful to Anne’s entries, but Otto Frank rejected this version, instead choosing another production team who selected Goodrich and Hackett as the writers. The Stolen Legacy tells this story.

Muller, Melissa. Anne Frank: The Biography, translated by Robert Kimber and Rita Kimber. Owl Books, 1999. Muller’s biography of Anne situates her diary within a larger historical framework.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 82

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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