Lesley Malin, performer and Managing Director at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, shares a personal reflection on her own past, The Diary of Anne Frank, and related programming throughout the community, called “Spring of Remembrance.”
When I first read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, both its Jewishness and its insights as a rare coming-of-age story for a young woman made it an influential and unforgettable story for me. Anne’s bold voice leapt off the page and lodged itself in my memory and my heart. Anne was brave, kind, hopeful, self-critical and self-indulgent, and brilliantly talented. While her life could be snuffed out by the banal evil of the Holocaust, her spirit shines far beyond her short lifetime.
If I had lived in Nazi-controlled Europe, I would have been despised as a Mischling—a half-Jew. My Jewish mother, who combines fierce intelligence with championship-level worry, taught me to be proud of my heritage but aware of its vulnerabilities. Learning about the Holocaust in middle school, I keenly realized that I, too, would have been scooped up in the horrors inflicted upon Europe’s Jews and other victims by the Nazis’ murderous madness.
As Chesapeake Shakespeare Company started talking about showcasing the powerful theatrical adaptation, The Diary of Anne Frank, I knew it would be a production that would be close to my heart: I am playing the role of Anne’s despairing and loving mother in the play. Together with Chesapeake Shakespeare’s fantastic community outreach and education teams, we are dedicated to ensuring that this production creates a breadth of awareness far beyond a typical classical play.
As an integral part of those outreach efforts, Jean Thompson, our Director of Communications, and I discovered that, independently, so many Baltimore institutions planned spring exhibits and events related to the Holocaust. These range from Theatre Morgan at Morgan State University to the Jewish Museum of Maryland to the Baltimore Museum of Art to the American Visionary Arts Museum and beyond. It is heartening to find that we share a dedication to telling these important stories, individually and as partners.
We contacted the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. They guided us to the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect here in the United States, which owns an exhibit of Otto Frank’s photos. Through amazing good fortune and artistic cooperation, we were able to arrange to have it mounted at Gordon Center for Performing Arts at the Jewish Community Center of Baltimore (through June 12, Anne’s 90th birthday). The New York-based Anne Frank Center also connected us to Oculus, which has provided virtual reality equipment so our patrons may tour The Anne Frank House; the equipment has been donated to the Jewish Museum of Maryland and will be available in our theater during the run of the play.
The more I’ve steeped myself in Anne Frank’s life and issues around the Holocaust, the more frightened I am. Last year, a study came out that showed that American awareness and understanding of the Holocaust was abysmally low. We know that anti-Semitism is on the rise. The shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue has heightened fears. But my college-aged son did not read any Holocaust literature in school and many of his friends did not study it in their history classes.
What’s going on? How can we possibly think that it is less than essential for every generation to understand the rapidity, bureaucracy, breadth, and horrors of the Shoah? We and our “Spring of Remembrance” partners are doing what we can to help educate the next generation in Baltimore, but is it enough? Can it ever be enough?
In The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne and her family and friends bear witness to what humanity is capable of–both evil and sublime. For some theatre-goers, especially the youngest, the play may therefore be an important introduction to the Holocaust. I hope you will visit the Baltimore arts community’s other “Spring of Remembrance” events, as well.
For me, I am doing this play in honor of my mother, Joanne Cohen, and of our Jablinowski and Berkowitz and Kasperowitz and Weiss forebears from Germany and Poland who moved to America in time, and in honor of all our relatives whom we never knew, who didn’t make it out. For them, I bring to life the light and hope and generosity of Anne Frank.
The Diary of Anne Frank, by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman, is based upon Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. The play runs from April 26 – May 26.
John Damond Jr., a Baltimore librarian who has spent more than 25 years researching Anne Frank’s life, will lead preshow conversations on May 4, 11, 16, and 26. Through a collaboration with the Baltimore Jewish Council, students will speak with a Holocaust survivor after some of our school matinees. For more information about the play, visit www.ChesapeakeShakespeare.com.
Learn more about “Spring of Remembrance” events at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company and many other Baltimore institutions.