Homage to Anne

The doyen of Anglo-Jewish letters invokes the murdered teenage diarist to reassure worried Jews everywhere.

Bernard Kops: An influential innovator of British drama (photo credit: COURTESY INDIGO DREAMS PUBLISHING)
Bernard Kops: An influential innovator of British drama
BERNARD KOPS, the doyen of Anglo-Jewish letters, has responded to a global resurgence of violent anti-Semitism by issuing a new collection of verse called “Anne Frank’s Fragments from Nowhere,” a mixture of poems old and new.This is his second major work exploring the legacy of the teenage diarist, who was murdered in Bergen-Belsen by the Nazis in 1945 after hiding with her family for two fraught years in a secret annex at the back of an Amsterdam building.
She returns in Kops’s insistent words to assure worried Jews everywhere: .
.. peace will come.
And the tired will lie down and sleep.
And the dreamers will awake
and embrace the beauty
of world, of existence, of love.
And peace will come,
and love and lovers will transcend the wars of earth.
And they will plant their love.
And the tree of love will grow forever.
And you’ll see. Peace will come. And peace will come.
And people will come and go and live.
And live again and again.
And peace will come. You’ll see!
You’ll see. And peace will come!
And peace will come!
And peace must come.
Kops, a poet and playwright whose reputation at the age of 89 has surged in recent years, is slightly older than Anne would have been if she were still alive today.
He is a descendant of working-class Dutch-Jewish immigrants to Britain, whose entire extended family back in Europe perished during the Holocaust. He is a survivor acutely aware of a looming, ubiquitous presence of racist intolerance.
European Jewry perceives a level of existential threat that they have not experienced since the time when wartime deportation trains transported the Kops and the Frank families and millions of other civilian captives across Europe to industrially organized slaughter. European Jewish emigration and interest in emigration to Israel has now reached record levels.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that world interest in Anne Frank herself has, if anything, increased over the last few years.
The first German feature film based on the teenager’s Holocaust testimony, “Das Tagebuch der Anne Frank” (The Diary of Anne Frank), was released at the 66th Berlin Film Festival in February.
Kops’s collection addresses the future by insisting on recording the past. In the wry, understated poem “For the Record,” which appears in this collection, he recalls:
They came for him in Amsterdam, my grandfather David,
and with minimum force removed him from his home.
He surrendered to the entire German army,
and that was that.
It is of little consequence now;
so many die alone in foreign lands.
But for the record I must say they
gave him a number, helped him
aboard an eastbound train.
It was a little overcrowded,
but then they had so many to dispatch...
The poet grew up in deep poverty in the East End of London “as a committed witness for the lost community of Amsterdam,” he recounts, in his introduction to the 1997 book edition of his play “Dreams of Anne Frank,” “including my family and Anne’s. Her fate could so easily have been mine...”
He has good reason to feel unusually close to Anne. “My first play,‘The Hamlet of Stepney Green’” first performed at the Oxford Playhouse in1957, “was translated into Dutch by Rosie Pool, an author who joined the Dutch Resistance during the war. She had escaped from the Nazi transit camp at Westerbork,” a collection point from which the Jews were being dispatched to mass murder, “and her first task was to smuggle herself back and organize others.
“There she met and tutored Anne.
Rosie talked to me endlessly about Anne’s character, personality, dreams and nightmares. All this has fed my imagination, and Anne became my close relative.”
The experience eventually led to Kops’s first artistic engagement with the diarist, “Dreams of Anne Frank,” which opened in the Polka Theatre, London, in 1992. The work, subtitled as a “play for young people,” has been touring the world ever since, and has proved very popular with youth and school theater groups.
The impact of the play has gone far beyond Jewish actors and audiences. Kops told me that the Hungarian version performed in 1998 at the Mahatma Gandhi School, in Pécs, Hungary employed a cast of teenage Romany actors, perhaps a quarter million of whose people had been murdered during the Holocaust. The atmosphere was electric.
In Act One, Anne holds up a star on an empty stage as she turns to the audience.
(The following text of her song is not included in the new collection.)
Fate gave me a yellow star.
A badge to tell them who I am.
I’m Anne from Amsterdam
I’m Anne Frank and I’m a Jew.
And I’m the same as you and you.
Or you and you and you.
But fate gave me a yellow star.
Yellow star.
The star to put me in my place,
To wear it as a badge of shame,
But I’m Anne from Amsterdam.
I’m proud of who I am.
We have to hide away from light Because they come for us at night.
And pack us off to God knows where, And all we have is where we are.
But fate gave me a yellow star.
Yellow star.
Like Kops, the real-life Anne had consciously prepared for a writing career.
Her diary describing the fears as well as the tensions, loves, dreams and irritations of people hiding away from death in a terrorized city was published posthumously in 1947 as“Het Achterhuis”(The Annex).
Subsequent editions were titled “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Diary of a Young Girl.” The book has sold more than 30 million copies.
Kops’s writing, while rooted in poetry, is unusually creative and wide-ranging.
Apart from nine collections of verse, he has also authored more than 40 plays for stage and television, 11 novels and two autobiographies. Many of his books are constantly in print and his plays in production. The breadth of his topics and themes, embracing Jewish identity, the many shades of love, family relationships, aging, fear, passion and mental illness, is enormous.
“The Hamlet of Stepney Green,” whose roots reach back to the traditions of Yiddish theater, is widely recognized as one of the originators of Britain’s revolutionary 1950s “kitchen-sink” drama, which took working-class domestic life as its principal theme. Other playwrights belonging to this movement included his fellow London Jewish writer Sir Arnold Wesker, who died in April this year.
Even academia has taken note. A critical analysis of his work, “Bernard Kops: Fantasist, London Jew, Apocalyptic Humorist,” written by Prof. William Baker of Northern Illinois University and Prof.
Jeanette Roberts Shumaker of San Diego State University, was published in 2013.
The book describes him as an influential innovator of British drama, an important social critic and a careful chronicler of Anglo-Jewish society as well as the London Bohemian subculture of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, of which he was a part.
He is also a stubborn optimist, convinced that well-chosen words are mightier even than arsenals of nuclear warheads.With a comradely wink towards Anne’s insistence in his play that peace will come, Kops includes in the new collection one of his best loved, old poems,“Shalom Bomb,” dating from the mid-1960s. Here is one timely passage:
...I want a one-man-band-bomb. My own bomb!
My live long and die happy bomb.
My die peacefully of old age bomb;
in my own bed bomb.
My Om Mane Padme Aum Bomb.
My Tiddly Om Pom Bomb.
My goodnight bomb, my sleeptight bomb,
my see you in the morning bomb.
I want my bomb. My own private bomb.
My Shalom bomb.