A Weekly Column
I was the assistant director for our high school production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” As I recall, my job was to flirt backstage with the girls in the cast and to sound like a really scary Nazi pounding on the door at the end of the show.
I was pretty good at that first job – backstage flirting was one of the primary things that drew me from sports into drama. But I think I was only marginally successful at the second job. My voice has never been what you would call “threatening.” Back then, telephone callers to our home were still confusing me with my sister. So I didn’t exactly strike terror into the hearts of our audience members as I pounded on the door offstage and shouted “Aufmachen die tür!” I probably sounded more like a cracky voiced teenager confirming your order at Der Wienerschnitzel.
It was years before I started to think about the story of Anne Frank and her family as something other than a great way to spend time in a darkened theater with beautiful young actresses. In college I was required to read the book upon which the play is based, and I was touched by young Anne’s poignant telling of the story of a Jewish family coping with the horrific realities of their life in Nazi Germany. I was incensed by the cruelty of an oppressive regime, and inspired by the courage of those who did the best they could with the life they were forced to live in hiding.
Through the years my perspective on the story has change a little. In high school, Anne was clearly the star of the show. Her optimistic nature in the face of such extraordinary evil is heroic. When she writes: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart,” and you know that just three weeks after she wrote that she and her family were captured, and eight months later she died at Bergen-Belsen . . . well, it’s pretty much awe-inspiring, especially to a teenager.
As a young father I found myself looking at the heroism of Otto and Edith Frank, Anne’s parents. I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to see so much horror swirling around you, and to try to keep your faith and your family together, doing whatever you have to do just to get through each day. Nor can I comprehend how it must have felt when father Otto, the only member of the family to survive the holocaust, read his daughter’s diary and was reminded of her joyful spirit and brilliant potential.
But lately I’ve been thinking about Miep Gies, the Dutch-born woman who risked her own life to hide and protect the Frank family. As a Christian, Miep was not in the same situation as the Franks. She worked for Otto and was a friend of the family, but there was no risk to her from the German authorities until she decided to help hide the Franks. Only then was her life in danger – because she chose to help her friends. While the Frank family hid in an unused room in his company office, Miep was among a handful of trusted souls who provided them with food, water, clean clothes and information. And when the family was finally captured, it was Miep who found the pages of Anne’s diary and preserved them, eventually delivering them to Otto.
When I learned of Miep’s passing a few weeks ago at 100 years of age, I found myself asking the same question I have asked numerous times through the years: do I even have it in me to be such a friend? To risk that much, to care that much, to give that much for others? I’m not sure I do. But I’m inspired by Miep and others like her who have stared cruelty and tyranny right square in the face, and overcome it with courageous kindness and audacious benevolence. The world was, and is, and ever will be a better place because of them.
And not just because of the backstage possibilities.
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