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Theatre company looks back at Anne Frank’s world

We look back, it’s been said, to know the way forward.

It’s been more than 75 years since the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Auschwitz’s 7,000 survivors—where some 1.1 million were murdered by the Nazis—are nearly all gone now. Their stories remain, but who’s listening?

Anti-Semitism is on the rise and racial and religious hatred are inflamed in the US and across the globe.

“Yes, the news is full of new anti-Semitic attacks, but it’s not just about anti-Semitism,” said Mainstreet Theatre Company Artistic Producer Mireya “Murry” Hepner. “It’s about refugees, it’s about immigrants, it’s about what happens to people when they’re seen as ‘the other.’ So I think it’s a universal story that happens to be told very specifically with these people.”

That story is And Then They Came For Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank. Mainstreet Theatre Company is bringing James Still’s play to the Victoria Gardens Cultural Center, 12505 Cultural Center Drive, Rancho Cucamonga, at 2 and 6 p.m. Saturday, February 1.

The play includes actual testimonies from close friends of Anne Frank, real people who were also teenagers when they were victimized by the Nazis, but managed to survive the horrors of World War II through luck, grit and tenacity.

“It was written 25 years ago, but I felt like it was a really important time to tell these stories again,” said Ms. Hepner.

“I think we’re in a transition period where the people who have firsthand accounts of the Holocaust are older, and in the next few years we’re going to lose most of them,” Ms. Hepner said. “So, part of it is for the next generation to take up the stories and tell them to the younger generation so that they’re not forgotten.”

And Then They Came For Me repeats at 2 and 6 p.m. Saturday, February 8, and 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday, February 9. Tickets are $10-$18 and are available at www.lewisfamilyplayhouse.com.

“We say it a lot that we don’t want the Holocaust forgotten, for so many reasons, because we don’t want this to ever happen again,” Ms. Hepner said. “I think that young people might not learn about it in this way in school.”

The overarching hope is the play taps into the sometimes hard to reach empathy reserves of middle and high school aged young people.

“Our goal is to get teens to recognize the feeling of what these teens went through,” Ms. Hepner said. “This is an extreme, right? People are not being sent to death camps today. But I think the questions are: How far can it go? And this is how far it went.

“And so what do we do to make the world a better place now? Because we don’t want it to ever get started again. For me that’s what it really is, it’s for teenagers to see how far humanity can really go.”

The Diary of Anne Frank, ends with the Frank family’s betrayal. And Then They Came For Me begins there, and brings to life what happened to real life friends of Anne’s, Eva Schloss who survived Auschwitz, and Ed Silverberg, escaped the Nazis by jumping from a truck that would have taken him to his death.

“This play is not metaphorical; It is absolutely real,” Ms. Hepner said. “They’re telling real stories. We know about Anne Frank because of her diaries, but this piece takes two people that she knew when they were all teenagers together, and takes it to the next place that the diary, of course, can’t.”

Anne Frank is a character in And Then They Came For Me, albeit posthumously. After the war, Eva Schloss and her mother are the only survivors from her family. Her mother marries Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank, the last survivor from the Frank family.

“It’s about how they did survive, and become grandparents themselves, and how so many people didn’t,” Ms. Hepner said. “In a weird way it’s a hopeful story about how they overcame what happened to them—which was horrific—to live their lives and to have kids and grandkids and careers, and to live and tell their stories to others.”

Ms. Hepner was hesitant to frame the message of the And Then They Came For Me in a way that might politicize it in today’s terms. She did offer this:

“You can’t compare suffering,” Ms. Hepner said. “You can’t draw direct parallels, because they’re not directly parallel. What that does is it takes away from what kids are going through now, and what kids went through then. You can look at it, and use it to think about your own choices, and use it to inform how you feel. So I don’t want to draw direct parallels to what’s going on today, but obviously, if anybody’s watching the news, it’s going to resonate in a way that might not have resonated maybe 10 years ago.”

Claremont resident Carol Oberg—a daughter of Holocaust survivors and a docent from the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust—will take part in post-show discussions after the 6 p.m. show February 8, and following the 4 p.m. show on February 9; Jason Moss, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater Pomona and San Gabriel Valleys, will be joining for post-show discussions with some of the school groups that will be attending; and playwright James Still be on hand for a discussion after the 2 p.m. show on February 8.

A group from Claremont’s El Roble Intermediate School will see the show on February 6. The kids will hopefully have a lot to think about on the bus ride home.

“I’m hoping that it asks teenagers to think about their own lives, and what’s going on around them, and what choices they make, and how it would feel to suddenly have your world turned upside down through no fault of your own,” Ms. Hepner said.

“I think it’s always timely, but especially now, with the world being so confusing, for teens to relate to teens from 75 years ago. I hope what it does is that it asks young people to ask questions.”

And Then They Came For Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank, at the Victoria Gardens Cultural Center, 12505 Cultural Center Drive, Rancho Cucamonga, at 2 and 6 p.m. Saturday, February 1, and Saturday, February 8, and 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday February 9. Tickets are $10-$18 at www.lewisfamilyplayhouse.com. The show’s subject matter is such that it is not recommended for children under the age of 11.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

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