“Three out of four people in this world live in a place of high religious intolerance.” A week or so before auditions, I heard this statistic reported on the radio and was stunned. I had already wanted to do this play because it is an inspiring story of perseverance and hope, which serves as a timeless lesson that the spirit of a child is impossible to deny. Now I saw that it was even more significant than I had realized. I was moved all over again by Anne’s poignant words: “When you find peace within yourself, you become the kind of person who can live at peace with others.”
Living in America, I take for granted, as I believe many of us do, the everyday liberties that so many in this world are denied. I grew up in Los Angeles, with tremendous religious and cultural diversity. When I moved to Bryan, I discovered a different part of the country, with different religious and cultural traditions – but still with a spirit of acceptance and warmth for the wide variety of cultures that make up our country. It is difficult for me, and I would assume for most Americans, to imagine the world in which Anne Frank and her family lived.
This past March marked the 70th anniversary of Anne Frank’s death. To commemorate her life and her contribution to the world, StageCenter has chosen to present this contemporary adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank as part of its 50th anniversary season. April 16th, the day our production opens, coincides with Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah). On this day we remember the more than 1.5 million children who were murdered during the Holocaust, including Anne, her sister, Margot, and her friend, Peter. We recall the loss of more than six million Jews and others the Nazis considered socially, racially, or politically unfit including: the mentally ill and physically disabled, homosexuals, Gypsies, Jehovah Witnesses, Communists…and the list goes on. We remember, too, those who survived and those who risked their lives and the lives of their families to save others. And, we remember the service men and women among them many Americans who liberated the concentration camps.
Sometimes it’s hard to understand why people didn’t escape to safety when the Nazi’s regime came to power. And indeed the Franks did flee Germany, emigrating to Holland where they thought they’d be protected. Like most people of the time, the Franks never thought events would progress to the horrific level that they did. Before the Holocaust occurred no one believed that such horror was possible. And yet it did happen.
Could it happen again? That story on the radio continues to haunt me--three-fourths of the world’s people living with religious intolerance. Once again Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe and around the world. Acts of religious violence continue to grow.
And so to me, Anne’s extraordinary diary is as vital today as when it was first written. It has become an essential part in how we remember one of the darkest parts of the 20th century history. We would like to say “it could never happen again” and yet religious hatred continues to thrive in this world. Recent events in Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Somalia, Darfur, Iraq, and lately in Syria show us how the lives of ordinary people can be crushed when a particular religious or ethnic group is targeted for attack and perhaps for genocide. It CAN happen again! Anne’s words remind us of our history and empower us to personally connect to the disastrous consequences of ignoring the realities of our world. She reminds us of our humanity.