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The Diary of Anne Frank

by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett

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Student Question

Why was Peter embarrassed by his father's words to Mr. Dussel in The Diary of Anne Frank?

Quick answer:

In the stage adaptation of Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl, Peter van Daan (described in the diary under the pseudonym "van Pels") is humiliated and angered by his father's hostility towards Albert Dussel, the dentist invited by Otto Frank to join the two families in hiding from the Germans. The senior van Pels resents the addition of another person out of concern for limited food supplies.

Expert Answers

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Otto Frank and his coconspirators in hiding from the Germans believe that they have the space and provisions to conceal one or two more people. Following a deliberative process, these men decide to invite a dentist named Fritz Pfeffer, whose name Anne changes to Alfred Dussel in her Diary of a Young Girl, whose Christian partner decides not to go into hiding because of her non-Jewish identity. Initially, Anne is excited about the prospect of a new person squeezing into the confined space in which the Frank and van Pels (van Daan in the diary) families are living. In the diary entry for November 10, 1942, Anne begins:

Great news! We’re planning to take an eighth person into hiding with us! ... We chose a dentist named Alfred Dussel ... He’s known to be quiet and refined, and he seemed, from our superficial acquaintance with him, to be nice.

This small detail in Anne’s diary entry is important because it suggests the expectation of an educated, mature adult who will provide a level of refinement for the closed environment in which these refugees from the early days of the Holocaust are hiding. While the gloss over Dr. Dussel’s sheen will wear away in the face of prolonged enforced confinement in small quarters, the initial impression and expectation is positive. It is assumed that this medical professional will conform to the home dictates as drafted and adopted, one provision of which specifies, “It is necessary to speak softly at all times. Only the language of civilized people may be spoken, thus no German.”

The play adaptation from Diary of a Young Girl, not unexpectedly, takes liberties with the nonfiction diary’s entries. Dramatic license is always expected when books or diaries are adapted for the stage or screen. As such understanding the personal dynamics among the characters in the play is helped by reference to the original diary. In the play, the introduction of the character Dussel happens very differently than is described in the diary, and the character of Mr. van Pels is similarly modified to fit the play’s narrative. In the play, Mr. van Pels is not particularly welcoming of another body in a hiding place in which food and space are already at a premium. When Dussel arrives, he finds an exceptionally welcoming Frank family and a distinctly unwelcoming van Pels. Van Pels greets Dussel by saying,

Did Mr. Kraker warn you that you won’t get much to eat here? You can imagine ... Three ration books among the seven of us ... And now you make eight.

Peter van Pels, the son and a kind, thoughtful young man, is instantly repelled by his father’s hostile greeting. The stage instruction directs Peter to “walk away humiliated.”

Peter is disturbed by his father’s open display of hostility towards Dussel because he does not share the senior van Pels’s feelings about allowing another individual into the families’ hiding place.

The information provided above from Anne’s diary entries is provided for what might be considered ethical reasons. The only account of the events that take place on the stage is the diary. There is nothing in Anne’s entries that suggest hostility on the part of van Pels towards Dr. Dussel. On the contrary, Anne describes Mr. van Pels as contributing to the preparation of meals without reference to any additional burden associated with the addition into the hiding place of the Franks and van Pels. Anne will go on, however, to note that Dussel’s presence turns out to be less pleasant than initially expected, as he is revealed as “an old-fashioned disciplinarian and preacher of unbearably long sermons on manners.”

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