By Sulia Altenberg
For the last nine months I have spent a majority of my weekdays in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The first six of those were spent living in an actual apartment with twelve other people in a West Amsterdam neighborhood, riding my bike to the final four classes of my undergrad. For the last three months, however, I have been living each day in an Amsterdam attic right here in Minnesota, at Park Square, in The Diary of Anne Frank.
The day after I was given a role of a lifetime, I couldn’t sit in my dingy room with its horrible Internet in West Amsterdam. I had long wanted to go into the “Hollandsche Schouwberg,” as it’s exterior walls are clad with Hebrew that I didn’t understand. I thought, “how lovely, a theater building commemorating Dutch Jews.”
The beautiful Jewish theater that once stood there has now become the Dutch Holocaust Memorial, with a list of the every murdered Jewish Dutch family name, a museum, and a large courtyard with tulips, all to commemorate the 107,000 Jews that were persecuted and killed by the Nazi party in the area where the theater seats and stage were. On the list of family names I found my own last name, Altenberg, then I found the Franks, the Van Pels and the Pfeiffers. It will never ever be fair that I, a Jewish woman, got to go home after visiting that theater, to America, to perform the story on stage, portraying the Holocaust’s most famous victim. It will never be fair that the people who hold my same last name were dragged to this theater, and would never see their home again.
This year, it was decided that the diary entries which are written into the script as voice-overs, would instead be performed live onstage. It is so wonderful when the kids out there get excited, you can hear them and feel them when they sympathize with Mrs. Frank as Anne pushes her away, when they scream and clap for Anne and Peter’s first kiss, and when they cheer for the news of the D-Day invasion. Keeping it fresh for those kids everyday, however, is the hardest part, but I get to use all those memories of Amsterdam and all those emotions I have attached to those memories to get me to be as genuine as possible.
Anne makes the choice to be brave, she and I adjust our backpack straps and we stand tall and we are okay to go face the Nazis. In many ways I live my life in the gap of the dreams that were never fulfilled by Anne. She too wanted to be an actress, “a famous dancer or singer, or something wonderful!” That is how you cope with your Jewish survivor’s guilt; you live your life the way you want to.
The cool thing is, I get to make Anne’s dreams come true too. I get to help her go on living after her death, even if it just is for 40 performances.