Deanne Morris grew up in Germany. Her father was stationed there with the United States Navy from the time she was 10 until just before her 18th birthday.
She learned all about the Holocaust, being where the horror took place.
But the thing that will forever be etched in Deanne’s mind happened during a Girl Scout field trip when she was 11.
“I remember going to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in the early 1970s; you could still smell the concentration camp and death,” Deanne said. “There were mounds, and as little girls, we were running up and down the mounds. At the end of one mound, we noticed the women were in a huddle crying. They walked off crying.
“We knew who Anne Frank was through books we had to read at school. A bunch of us Girl Scouts went over to see what the women were crying about. It was Anne and her sister, Margot’s, grave marker.”
Deanne knew this was the last camp where the two sisters had been. But she never dreamed that the mounds she and her friends had been running up and down were mass graves.
“That’s where Anne and Margot were thrown, where they were buried,” Deanne said. “Here we are little kids running around and all of a sudden, we see their marker. That brought it home to me.”
That’s why she was anxious for Center Stage Theatre to do the play “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which its members will perform this month.
Deanne, director of the play, said she also wanted to do the play because she has friends whose parents, grandparents and families were affected by the Holocaust.
“What I want to portray with ‘Anne Frank’ is that it (the Holocaust) is real,” she said. “Anne Frank was a real little girl just like I was. To think there was this little girl who was so in love with life and had not a care in the world before she went into that attic. She was very gifted in writing and very articulate. We’re lucky that Anne had a diary that she was able to write her thoughts in and let us know the truth.”
Deanne said the entire play is through the eyes of Anne Frank. It contains a lot of Anne’s thoughts and excerpts from her diary — what she saw through the eyes of a girl.
Portraying Anne will be 13-year-old Jillian Malham and her 13-year-old understudy, Grace D’Entremont.
Anne was the part Jillian wanted. She gets into the part by looking into the mirror and realizing all that Anne went through in her young life.
“I want the audience to know that Anne Frank was my age and was the age of some of the kids in the audience,” Jillian said. “I want them to relate to her. She had to move her whole life to that attic and had to stop really being a kid and grow up really fast.”
Grace has also researched what Anne went through and will try to portray that to the audience.
“I feel like I can relate to her, and I’ve become very interested with her history,” Grace said. “After reading the script, it’s definitely been eye opening and I’ve learned more about the terrible events that happened.”
The play is more personal for Dr. Roy Heidicker, who plays Anne’s father, Otto Frank.
Through an ancestor search, he found out he’s more Jewish than he thought and now wonders how many of his ancestors were killed in the Holocaust.
“I absolutely wanted this part because he (Otto Frank) is the witness to what happens,” Heidicker said. “He is the only survivor. He supports everyone. When there’s issues and problems and people are afraid, he’s the one who brings everybody back down to earth.
“His tragedy is so huge because he felt it was up to him to keep everyone safe. By him being the only survivor, I think he’s devastated, absolutely devastated.”
Six million men, women and children, for no other reason than the fact that they were Jewish, were murdered, systematically and brutally, Heidicker said. To him, Anne Frank is the face of the Holocaust.
Portraying real people is different than playing a fictional character.
“I think because these are real people, you have a responsibility to try to make it as authentic as you possibly can,” Heidicker said. “It’s like you owe it to their memory to do the very best that you can.”
Deanne hopes the production will make the audience realize that the Holocaust was real.
“I hope they cry when they walk out the door and maybe go tell somebody else,” she said. “If we wipe out the Holocaust, we give room for it to happen again.”