The Holocaust Resource Center at Kean University is hosting a virtual conversation about “‘Playing Anne Frank,” a new podcast series from the Forward, on March 13. (See below.)
In the seven-episode limited series, the platform’s executive editor, Adam Langer, presents the back story of the award-winning play and film and explores how this iconic work shapes those involved in its production and performance..
The conversation is between Mr. Langer and Shana Stein, an adjunct professor at Kean University, a teacher at Montclair High School, and a member of the New Jersey State Commission on Holocaust Education. Ms. Stein teaches graduate courses at Kean, social studies at the high school, and a dual credit course — that’s a high school course for which students also receive college credit — through Kean called Holocaust, Genocide and Modern Humanity.
Dr. Adara Goldberg is the director of the Holocaust Resource Center. “We’re always trying to find new ways of engaging the community, and educators in particular, and trying to identify opportunities for people to learn and think about the Holocaust in fresh ways,” she said. “The podcast offers us the chance to really delve deep into how ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ has been utilized as both an educational tool as well as entertainment.
“‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ debuted on Broadway in 1955 and is lauded as one of the most influential plays of its time,” she continued. “The play was the introduction for many Americans, and for many people around the world, to the experiences of Jewish people during the Holocaust.
“We can now go back and ask questions about what it meant for an actor to play Anne in the play or in the film — which was released a few years later — at that time, when most of the world was still quite ignorant of what had been done to the Jews of Europe. About what it meant to play a young woman who was victimized by the Nazis and ultimately killed. What did that mean to somebody at that time? And what does it mean to those who continue to participate in these productions today?
“Our hope is that this might provide another point of access to asking difficult questions and to engaging students in conversations about literature of the Holocaust and representation, even today.”
The podcast examines how the play was produced and the people who participated in the reenactments — about how playing these parts or working on the productions influenced them and affected their lives.
The conversation between Mr. Langer and Ms. Stein will explore “what it meant to make the podcast, what it means to interview people who were involved in such groundbreaking work,” Dr. Goldberg said.
“The program was Shana’s idea. She and her graduate students have spoken about the different ways of learning about the Holocaust — that there’s not only one method. This conversation is an opportunity for us to recognize new works and new ideas and to provide a forum for discussing how we can generate ideas for integrating traditional or known stories into Holocaust education.”
The Anne Frank story, of course, is very well known, and Ms. Stein hopes that the podcast, and her conversation about it, will enable people to look at the story through a new lens. “I hope that teachers will think about the legacy of the Holocaust and will think about the stories and the ways in which we reach people, and will think about the legacy that the Anne Frank story has left,” she said.
“The podcast is a story about a story,” she continued. “We’ll talk about Mr. Langer’s intentions in making the podcast, about why he decided to tell this story now. We’ll also discuss what he learned from the podcast and what he hopes listeners will take away from it.
“And we’ll explore how the podcast can be used to further Holocaust education, and education about how we tell stories about atrocities and how we tell our stories in general.”
The conversation also will delve into some of the broader issues that arise when art is based on real events.
“Because of the story’s popularity, because so many people were drawn to this compelling story, Anne Frank has become this icon, and people have applied all sorts of different meanings to her story,” Ms. Stein said. For example, the podcast describes how adults tend to see the play as focusing on the Holocaust and on the loss of family while young people often focus on the love story between Anne and Peter.
“The story has also taken on a very American kind of idea of looking at hope, of focusing on Anne’s continued belief that people are good, even though the story ends in this very devastating way,” Ms. Stein continued. “We see Anne as this figure of hope — but of course, she stops her writing, and she stops the storytelling, when they are captured, and she can’t continue to write.”
Dr. Goldberg said that because the story is so well known, it is often misused or exploited and that it’s not difficult to understand how the story has been exploited — as a drama that’s been associated with Holocaust denial. The misuse comes into play when people “try to universalize the story of Anne Frank and remove the fact that, as much as Anne was a young woman who had hopes and dreams and interests and dislikes just like anyone else of her age, the reason she was in hiding and keeping this diary was because she was a Jewish girl in the Netherlands who was being persecuted because she was Jewish and who lost her life, had it stolen, because she was Jewish,” Dr. Goldberg said. “This is something that often gets sort of removed from the conversation. Anne is often treated like just a figure of a young person, like a figure of hope and inspiration. That doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t be viewed as an inspiration — but we cannot forget who Anne Frank actually was.
“How can we respect the memory of a young person while continuing to teach this topic?” Dr. Goldberg asked. “Because that’s something that we always have to be careful about — remembering that we’re speaking about human beings and their experiences. Even if we’re dramatizing the story, even if we’re talking about it in the classroom, we’re still talking about human lives.
“The diary doesn’t end with the end of Anne’s life, so it’s very easy for people who don’t want to delve deeper or acknowledge hard truths about the Holocaust to stop there, with the notion that there’s hope and there’s goodness in the world, when in fact the diary ended because Anne and her family were turned in, and they were deported.
“It’s important to tell the whole story and to not turn it into something that makes us more comfortable perhaps.”
The program is open to the public, but Ms. Stein thinks it will be particularly useful for educators. “It will be very relevant for theater teachers and for English teachers who teach about theater or who teach about dramatizing real events,” she said. “It will also be a good opportunity for educators who teach about the Holocaust or who teach literature to broaden their sense of the Anne Frank story, and to think more deeply about it when they teach ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’”
Ms. Stein thinks social studies teachers also will benefit. “There’s a lot of interesting information about the Cold War in the podcast, about people being blacklisted,” she said. “And the discussion about how the play was received in places in the South, where many people had never met a Jewish person or even heard about the Holocaust, adds real historical context.”
Who: Adam Langer and Shana Stein
What: Will discuss Adam Langer’s new podcast, “Playing Anne Frank,” for the Holocaust Resource Center at Kean University
When: Monday, March 13, at 4:30 p.m.
Where: On Zoom, link provided with RSVP
For more information and to register: Email
Sarah Coykendall at email@example.com or call her at (908) 737-4632