I don’t know what other people’s experiences of learning about the Holocaust were, especially people my age. I might be wrong, but I imagine being shocked and horrified when they learned about it in school. I might be wrong, but I feel like I was in a minority that knew about it long before it was taught in school.
My dad’s always been a World War II buff and a history buff in general, so I was exposed to a lot as a kid that others might not have been. We took weekend trips to Gettysburg for years, and R-rated movies that were based on historical events were fair game for viewing. My dad felt that history was important and wasn’t something we should’ve been shielded from, which is an attitude I strangely respect and admire–and using those words to describe something my dad did is pretty rare. He actually wanted to take me to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. on a trip as a kid, but at least at the time, you had to be 12 to go through and I was not.
I was fascinated by the Holocaust, which feels like the wrong word to use–disrespectful and voyeuristic, almost, but it’s the best I can come up with. I was astounded that someone could be filled with so much hate for a group of people and could be so horrible and do such horrible things. I still have an interest in memoirs of survivors or documentaries and movies, and like my dad, I think they’re important.
Strangely, despite having an old copy of my mom’s I never actually read “The Diary of Anne Frank.” My reading habits have pretty much always been the same–I’ll read just about anything, but that means I’m surrounded by stacks of unread books and I get to a book when I get to it. But I remember probably around the time I was in 6th grade–maybe around the late ’90s, early 2000s–there was either a mini-series or TV movie on about Anne Frank. The only thing I remember is the end, when Anne died in a concentration camp just a couple weeks before the camp was liberated. I cried myself to sleep.
A few months ago–on either a sick day or snow day or just random day off–I was going through my Netflix list and stumbled on an Anne Frank movie and tackled it. And on a recent trip into the city, I noticed billboards advertising a production of the play based on the diary. I decided if we had a good opportunity to go, we ought to, and that’s what we did last night, just in time for the last weekend of the show.
On my last couple trips into the city, I’ve ended up being sufficiently early for where I was heading. I’m still in the habit of checking traffic before I leave–it helps me gauge whether or not I need to leave early or if I should take an alternate route–and that includes checking news reports for road closures due to construction. Normally, the side of the highway we take to get home is the one that’s closed, and that’s what it sounded like was happening again last night. Turns out the side that was closed was the opposite inbound side, with a detour that ultimately took you all the way around the parkway on the other end of the city. And because everyone had to detour that way, traffic was terrible.
We’d originally planned on taking recycling, then parking at the casino and taking the subway. We first got stopped a little after 7 and figured no big deal, the show’s at 8 and we can just skip recycling and take it after if we need to. And then the minutes ticked by and we were barely moving, so we decided to scrap the subway and just go straight there and pay for the parking, possibly even having Paul drop me off at the theater while he parked. I even checked my handy parking app in advance to make sure the garage was open before we went to it–ParkPGH, if you’re in Pittsburgh, super helpful. Come 7:40, I said, “I’m afraid we’re gonna spend this next 20 minutes still sitting in traffic,” and I was right. By a little after 8, we started discussing at what point our cutoff would be to say fuck it and turn around and go home–no point in going to a play if you’re gonna miss half of it. I even asked my mom if she thought I ought to complain and try to get free matinee tickets for today if we ended up going home. We decided that if we weren’t out of the traffic by 9, we were going home.
We made it out around 8:30, got parked a few minutes after, and were fortunately right down the road from the theater and made it in there and picked up our tickets at the box office by around 8:45. I was pretty pissed, but at least we made it before our cut-off time and before the first act ended. I actually wasn’t sure that they’d even seat us–I thought we’d be stuck in the back until intermission–but I’m grateful to the nice, understanding O’Reilly Theater employee who took us right up and sympathized with what was ultimately our two-hour ordeal in traffic.
I’ve never been to the O’Reilly before, although I’ve been in the area plenty of times. It might be my favorite of the city’s theaters, simply because it has a thrust stage. I didn’t want the cheapest seats in the house, but I didn’t want the most expensive, either, so I sprung for a tier up, which got us the top level of the theater. Because it’s a thrust stage, our section was lone chairs arranged in a single-file row, so Paul was actually sitting behind me as opposed to right next to me, which actually works really great when you’re 45 minutes late to a play because it meant we could slip into our seats quickly and quietly without disrupting anyone around us significantly–which might be why we did get seated immediately. And for being the not-quite-cheapest seats in the house, it had a great view right down onto the stage. Next time, I might spring for a price tier up, but I wasn’t disappointed.
Although we were 45 minutes late, we suspect they got a late start and we didn’t actually miss a full 45 minutes–in fact, we ended up being able to see almost a full 45 minutes of the first act and just under two hours of the play total, and the runtime was advertised as being just over two. Paul was unfamiliar with Anne Frank’s story but was able to pick it up quickly enough, and my movie viewing was fresh enough that I could figure out where we were. The trouble was forcing myself to pay attention instead of stewing in my fury over being late.
Obviously, I can’t speak for the beginning of the play, but what we saw was great. It was a Pittsburgh Public Theater production, and the entire cast was excellent. And naturally, it was a heavy, moving story, and I cried. The movie I watched showed the family actually being forced out of hiding and taken away, but I was grateful the play didn’t go that far and stopped with the family hearing Germans entering the building and getting closer and closer to the annex, closing with Anne’s dad reading from her diary–which, although I missed it, I do know is how it starts, too. It’s funny to say that I’m grateful the play didn’t show what was the most difficult part of Anne’s diary (though obviously not her story itself) when that would’ve been so, so much harder to live. Watching it is hard enough itself.
The same things struck me about the play that struck me about the movie–how difficult it can be to be a teenage girl in general, let alone one in hiding from Nazis in a small, cramped space with your entire family, another family, and a middle-aged man as your roommate. How in spite of everything going on around her, Anne was still very much a typical teenage girl developing a crush on a housemate or wondering if she was pretty. How Anne, as a writer, feared she wasn’t any good but wanted so badly to be.
You can’t help but thing how you would handle that situation. I imagine I’d act very similarly to Anne but with more of the anger and fear of some of her housemates. Even pettiness didn’t seem so petty–there’s a scene where the father in the other family takes his wife’s fur coat to the woman who’s hiding them to sell, and his wife goes into hysterics over it. On the outset, it looks materialistic, a woman going into a crying fit over a fur coat. But when you think about it, is it really? If you were in hiding, away from your home, comfort, and even some basic necessities like enough food, wouldn’t you cling to what few possessions you had left? It wouldn’t really be about the things themselves, would it?
I’m also struck by that now-famous quote of Anne’s about still believing that people are still good at heart. It was one of the moments that pushed me over the bring into all-out tears. Honestly, there weren’t many, but they were strong enough to be really compelling. I admire that optimism and hope, and in some ways, I agree with her–I think people are capable of good and things go wrong, and I think there’s a lot to learn from that. I think it’s important for all of us to look at the way we treat people, the way our politicians treat people, and make sure we’re all doing everything we can to be compassionate, kind-hearted, and helpful, not paranoid or laying blame or selfish. We have a moral obligation to be good to each other. We all have the power to change someone’s life, even in tiny ways, and we have the moral obligation to do so.
Why not try to brighten and improve this world while we’re here? We can.