Anne Frank in 1940, while at 6. Montessorischool, Niersstraat 41-43, Amsterdam.
(photo credit: PUBLIC DOMAIN)
AMSTERDAM (JTA) – A play that ignores Anne Frank’s Jewish identity and features an unfounded assault allegation against a Jew who hid with her is generating controversy in the Netherlands.
The play, which is slated to premiere Saturday in the Netherlands, is set in modern times and mentions neither the Nazis nor why they murdered Anne Frank, the teenage diarist who wrote her world-famous journal while hiding in German-occupied Amsterdam during the Holocaust.
A dress rehearsal last week attended by several critics included an invented assault by Fritz Pfeffer against Margot Frank, Anne Frank’s sister.
Pfeffer was a real-life Jewish dentist who was in hiding with Frank and her family and died in the Holocaust. It has never been alleged that he assaulted Frank or anyone else.
Esther Voet, the editor-in-chief of the Dutch-Jewish weekly NIW and a former leader of the CIDI watchdog on antisemitism, condemned the play as “an unscrupulous falsification of history” in a scathing op-ed published Friday.
Apparently, “that pesky historical context, the one about the persecution of the Jews, that had to be done away with already,” she wrote of the play, which was produced by Arjen Stuurman and directed by Ilja Pfeijffer.
It is titled Achter het Huis, a phrase that means “behind the house” and echoes the Dutch-language name that Frank gave the secret annex where she hid.
Voet also protested how Pfeijffer “pressed his fat thumb” on Pfeffer and “made him guilty of an act of violence. Presto: Drama!” Voet also wrote that it was “abjectly tasteless.” The play is the “latest expression of abuse of Anne Frank’s memory,” wrote Voet, citing other such abuses including claims that Frank was a lesbian and her likening to Palestinians.
Asked last week about his addition of the assault, Pfeijffer, the director, told de Volkskrant: “The diary itself contains no drama,” adding: “What actually happens in the secret annex, seen through the eyes of a 13-year-old is a bit lean for a theater show.”
David Barnouw, author of the 2012 book The Anne Frank Phenomenon and a former researcher at the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, told JTA over the weekend that he “did not like the play because it was over the top” after seeing a dress rehearsal last week. But, he added that he does not agree with some of the weightier charges made by Voet.
“I disagree with her on some points,” said Barnouw, adding that he was not opposed to artists taking far-reaching license with historical truth. “The audience needs to decide whether this is acceptable, and no one else,” he said.
In the dress rehearsal, the people in hiding speak of the Jews only as “our people” and of the Germans as “the enemy,” he said.
Volkskrant reported last week that Pfeijffer is facing a lawsuit for copyright infringement by the Anne Frank Fonds, the Switzerland- based organization set up by the late Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father and sole survivor from her nuclear family, who entrusted the organization with the rights to her diary. But a spokesperson for the Anne Frank Fonds told JTA his organization “cannot confirm” this.
Whereas third parties may sue the producers of Achter het Huis, the spokesperson said in reference to relatives of Pfeffer, no legal action has been initiated by the Anne Frank Fonds, which is “monitoring the situation.”