When I first read about it, the report made me so angry I was about to burst. It was nothing short of disgusting — Director Stan Zimmerman was staging a new version of “The Diary Of Anne Frank” that would change the narrative from a young girl hiding in an attic from Nazis who wanted to kill all of the Jewish people, to a story about Immigration and Customs Enforcement arresting illegal immigrants. It was nothing short of Holocaust denial.
Actually, it was a far cry from Holocaust denial, because the reports about the play were nothing short of a falsehood.
Getting ready to pounce on Zimmerman, I went through his twitter feed. One tweet linked to an Instagram post on his account, which said:
“Great first read last night. Big thanks to @iamjuliegale for assembling this gifted cast. Contrary to Breitbart and the Drudge Report, I am NOT changing the Nazis to ICE. As I’ve stated, I was inspired after hearing about a Jewish woman in LA who created a Safe House for a Latina mom & her daughter when her husband was deported. I thought, what if this Jewish woman gave the script of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ to the family and they started reading it out loud? So please take a breath and see it before you judge it. This is coming from a place of love and honor and compassion.”
Yet Deadline Hollywood said the Nazis were represented as ICE agents, Jews as illegal immigrants. The Daily Caller wrote, “A new play recreating the famous story of Anne Frank and her family hiding from the Nazis is coming soon, but instead of evading the Nazis, the Franks will be an illegal Latino family in California hiding from ICE.” The Daily Mirror wrote, “A new stage production of ‘The Diary Of Anne Frank’ will reimagine the story as one about Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents hunting for illegal immigrants, rather than Nazis persecuting Jews.”
The truth is that all reports of the Nazis and Jews being replaced with ICE agents and illegal aliens in the production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” are wrong. The play being directed by Zimmerman is a word-for-word presentation of the 1997 Broadway script that starred Natalie Hershlag (later Natalie Portman) and was nominated for two Tony Awards.
So where’s the controversy?
According to the show’s website, the new staging is inspired by the true story of a Jewish woman in Los Angeles who created a “safe house” for a Latina mother and her two daughters after her husband was deported. “This made me think,” Zimmerman said. “What would happen if this Jewish woman handed out the play to families that she’s hiding and they all begin to read it aloud? Couldn’t the story of Anne Frank be essential today since a recent New York Times survey found the memory of the Holocaust is fading?”
Per my email exchange with Zimmerman, at the beginning of the performance, the “Jewish woman” character literally hands out scripts, and they begin reading the play. The play features mostly LatinX [a gender-neutral term for Latinos and Latinas] actors. Although the “readers” at the beginning of the staging are hiding from ICE, this “Diary of Anne Frank” is still a story about Jews hiding from Nazis. It still takes place in the top floors of the annex to an office building in Amsterdam.
But Zimmerman is mounting this production because he believes it’s important to tell Anne Frank’s story as is. He wrote to me: “We are here to honor Anne Frank’s story and to educate. Shockingly, we found when auditioning young actors that they didn’t know the story of Anne Frank. I thought the book or play was read in all schools.”
I totally disagree with Zimmerman’s politics. In my humble opinion, the Jewish woman in Los Angeles who created a “safe house” was aiding and abetting illegal immigrants breaking the law. I believe that arresting people who are in the country illegally is one of ICE’s jobs, along with preventing other crimes like child trafficking and MS-13 murders. From what I have read about Zimmerman, he probably wishes I would call them “undocumented” rather than “illegal.”
But more important than politics and semantics is the truth. And the truth is that while Zimmerman’s play may be told by a Jewish woman and a family illegally in the U.S. hiding from ICE, what the audience will see and hear is the real, undoctored script of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the same one that was nominated for Tony Awards two decades ago.
Jeff Dunetz played Otto in a production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” at SUNY Oswego in 1977.