New Dutch play about Anne Frank doesn’t mention Jews or Nazis

Story of teenage Holocaust victim set in modern times directed by Ilja Pfeijffer, who has history of controversial statements about Jews

Anne Frank (Flickr Commons via JTA)
Anne Frank (Flickr Commons via JTA)

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — A play that ignores Anne Frank’s Jewish identity and features an unfounded assault allegation against a Jew who hid with her is generating controversy in the Netherlands.

The play, which is slated to premiere Saturday in the Netherlands, is set in modern times and mentions neither the Nazis nor why they murdered Anne Frank, the teenage diarist who wrote her world-famous journal while hiding in German-occupied Amsterdam during the Holocaust.

A dress rehearsal last week attended by several critics included an invented assault by Fritz Pfeffer against Margot Frank, Anne Frank’s sister. Pfeffer was a real-life Jewish dentist who was in hiding with Frank and her family and died in the Holocaust. It has never been alleged that he assaulted Frank or anyone else.

Esther Voet, the editor-in-chief of the Dutch-Jewish weekly NIW and a former leader of the CIDI watchdog on anti-Semitism, condemned the play as “an unscrupulous falsification of history” in a scathing op-ed published Friday.

Apparently, “that pesky historical context, the one about the persecution of the Jews, that had to be done away with already,” she wrote of the play, which was produced by Arjen Stuurman and directed by Ilja Pfeijffer. It is titled “Achter het Huis,” a phrase that means “behind the house” and echoes the Dutch-language name that Frank gave the secret annex where she hid.

Ilja Pfeijffer speaking at the Night of Poetry in 2015. (CC BY-SA Vera de Kok, Wikimedia commons)

Voet also protested how Pfeijffer “pressed his fat thumb” on Pfeffer and “made him guilty of an act of violence. Presto: Drama!” Voet also wrote that it was “abjectly tasteless.” The play is the “latest expression of abuse of Anne Frank’s memory,” wrote Voet, citing other such abuses, including claims that Frank was a lesbian and her likening to Palestinians.

Asked last week about his addition of the assault, Pfeijffer, the director, told the Volkskrant: “The diary itself contains no drama,” adding: “What actually happens in the secret annex, seen through the eyes of a 13-year-old is a bit lean for a theater show.”

David Barnouw, author of the 2012 book “The Anne Frank Phenomenon” and a former researcher at the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, told JTA over the weekend that he “did not like the play because it was over the top” after seeing a dress rehearsal earlier this week. But, he added that he does not agree with some of the weightier charges made by Voet.

“I disagree with her on some points,” said Barnouw, adding he was not opposed to artists taking far-reaching license with historical truth. “The audience needs to decide whether this is acceptable, and no one else,” he said. In the dress rehearsal, the people in hiding refer to the Jews only as “our people” and of the Germans as “the enemy,” he said.

The Volkskrant reported last week that Pfeijffer is facing a lawsuit for copyright infringement by the Anne Frank Fonds, the Switzerland-based organization set up by the late Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father and sole survivor from her nuclear family, who entrusted the organization with the rights to her diary. But a spokesperson for the Anne Frank Fonds told JTA his organization “cannot confirm” this.

Whereas third parties may sue the producers of “Achter het Huis,” the spokesperson said in reference to relatives of Pfeffer, no legal action has been initiated by the Anne Frank Fonds, which is “monitoring the situation.”

Dyab Abou Jahjah in 2008 (CC BY-SA De wereld volgens Dyab Abou Jahjah, Wikimedia)

Pfeijffer, who is also a poet, has a history of making controversial statements, including about Jews.

Last year, he called Leon de Winter, a well-known Dutch-Jewish novelist and playwright, a “militant Jew.” Winters had written a theater play about Anne Frank for the Anne Frank Fonds in 2014.

That charge came in a column by Pfeijffer about Winter’s decision to leave his former publisher over its hiring of a Belgian author, Dyab Abou Jahjah. Abou Jahjah supports Hezbollah, has called for violence against Israelis and spoke of his “feeling of victory” following the 9/11 attacks. Abou Jahjah also called Antwerp, which has a large community of Orthodox Jews, the “international capital of the Zionist lobby,” according to NRC.

“Abou Jahjah speaks out for oppressed Palestinians and that makes him an anti-Semite for de Winter,” Pfeijffer wrote. He identified Abou Jahjah as “a founder of the Arab European League.” The now-defunct Muslim rights group a decade ago posted on its website a caricature of Anne Frank in bed with Adolf Hitler and another caricature suggesting the Holocaust never happened, which a judge ordered removed.

In 2015, Pfeijffer published a poem in the voice of a Palestinian man who lost his home and whose daughter was mutilated “by Jews who trampled on our holy land with boots that can do no wrong because they are of Jews, because of what went on before.”

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