Theater About the Holocaust, from The Diary of Anne Frank to Leopoldstadt

On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day – designated by the United Nations every January 27th, because that was the date in 1945 when Soviet soldiers liberated the 6,000 remaining prisoners at Auschwitz, the Nazis’ largest death camp – it’s worth pointing to the continuing role of theater in keeping the public aware and the lessons of the Holocaust alive.

The Holocaust Theater Catalog,  a project of the University of Miami’s National Jewish Theater Foundatio, lists more than 950 theater works from around the world since 1933 relating to the Holocaust. And that doesn’t include the current play on Broadway, “Leopoldstadt” by Tom Stoppard, nor the recent solo show at the Under the Radar Festival, “Otto Frank,” although it does include most of the other plays on the subject with productions last year — Remember This: The Lesson of Jan KarskiHarmonyWitness;  Prayer for the French Republic and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis — and other notable plays that have been on Broadway previously, including Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy, and Paula Vogel’s Indecent

In a video on the Catalog’s homepage, scholar Michael Berenbaum talks about the impact in particular of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hacket’s stage adaptation of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which debuted on Broadway in 1955 starring Susan Strasburg, and was revived in 1997 starring Natalie Portman, but has been performed around the world. Traveling a dozen years ago with Miep Gies, the woman who helped hide the Frank family and who was included as a character in the play, Berenbaum found it remarkable “how many women from the ages of 15 to 70 came up to Miep Gies and hugged her, presumed that they knew her, because they had played her, and they have been her.”

The aim of the Nazis was to dehumanize Jews in order to make it easier to kill them. The aim of theater, Berenbaum says, is to “rehumanize” them — “to give them a name, a voice, a narrative, a story.”

The following relevant plays are currently available digitally on BroadwayHD:

Incident at Vichy by Arthur Miller
Indecent by Paula Vogel
Rose by Maureen Lipman
If I Forget by Steven Levenson
The Sound of Music Live

Plays for Middle School and High School, from A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust

Photographs above:
Left column: Leopoldstadt (2), Otto Frank, Harmony, Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski
Middle column: Prayer for the French Republic, Incident at Vichy, Witness
Right column: The Diary of Anne Frank 1997, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Indecent, 2017

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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