Did the Holocaust really take place?
The question is addressed in revisionist rhetoric and in an unlikely place — a play recently performed by the Los Altos Youth Theatre, titled "Anne Frank & Me."
The storyline of the play — Anne Frank actually only appears as a minor character toward the end — centers on the fact that yes, the Shoah occurred. The play itself is intended to teach that very lesson.
As director Tom Carter, 41, of Mountain View, writes in his theater notes, "People who hate, people who think that the Holocaust is a creation of the Jews to gain sympathy and political and economic favors, are very active today. The truth is in jeopardy, and so are we.
"It is for these reasons that `Anne Frank & Me' is an important new work. Playwright Cherie Bennett makes Anne Frank's story more relevant to today's teens to help them relate to the horror that was the Holocaust."
The play begins in the present day when a group of teenagers is assigned to read "The Diary of Anne Frank" for school. Nicole Burns, the main character and a non-Jewish, thoroughly modern teenage girl, has her doubts about the Holocaust — doubts that are exacerbated by her parents' and friends' skepticism about the Shoah's reality.
When Nicole has an accident and is knocked unconscious, she travels back in time to 1942 Paris. There, she discovers that she's been transformed into Nicole Bernhardt, a Jewish girl whose father is a doctor.
From there, her story parallels that of Anne Frank — until Nicole finds herself squeezed with a mass of other human beings in a Nazi cattle car headed toward Auschwitz. In the car she meets Anne Frank.
When Nicole wakes up and returns to the present day, she no longer doubts the truth of the Holocaust and she sets out to educate her parents and friends.
For both the performers and the audience, the play delivers a poignant lesson.
"It is a huge message to us that is very scary," said Elizabeth Allen, who played the lead role of Nicole. The 17-year-old Los Altos resident added, "I had read the `Diary of Anne Frank' in school but had a hard time relating to it before acting in this production.
"I hope the audience finds it thought-provoking. I also hope that they feel, as I do, grateful for the freedom we have to practice our own beliefs."
Another performer, Katie Shur, 14, of Los Altos, wanted to get across to the audience that there really was a Holocaust. "People who were victims were normal people who led their lives just like we do today," she said. "Playing Anne gave me a warm and energetic feeling."
Jack Prus wanted to use the play as an educational tool. "We take for granted what we have today," said the 13-year-old Cupertino resident who played a Holocaust victim named David. "In performing this play we wanted to show how quickly people's freedom was taken away and the sufferings they endured."
Judging by the reaction of the audience, the performers succeeded in their individual and group goals.
"I feel this is a wonderful way to teach the story and for children to experience it from a personal standpoint," said Karen Martin of Los Altos, who attended with her husband and two pre-teen children. "Reading it as a child is different from watching the play, which transports you back in time."
Her 10-year-old daughter Amanda added, "I actually felt like I was in that time…a lot of questions I had got answered watching the play."
And her husband Glen noted, "Trying to teach our children about the Holocaust makes it more real seeing young people wear yellow stars."
Also in attendance was Magdalena Wroblewska, 40, of Cupertino. She is of Polish descent and was born near Auschwitz. "I was amazed by the passion of these young people," she said. "They have put so much feeling into the production."
And perhaps that is the best compliment of all that could have been paid to the production.
As play director Carter concludes in his notes, "Anne, you wanted to have a powerful impact on the world. I hope you know how you continue to overwhelm us with your spirit. Thank you for helping each of us to say, `I am a witness.'"