Actress Elgin Kelly does her best to assure that her audiences learn from our past, actively combating the scourge predicted by philosopher George Santayana’s famous dictum: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” She energetically uses her impressive communication skills to meaningfully deliver the full impact of the Holocaust to her audiences, and leaves a memorable impression.
Darke County Center for the Arts recently presented Elgin performing Living Voices’ production of Through the Eyes of a Friend for local junior high students at Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall; the program, part of DCCA’s Arts In Education program, relates the story of Anne Frank as told by a character who, though fictional, is a composite based on several of the teen’s real-life contemporaries. Initially rowdy seventh and eighth graders almost immediately became engrossed in this somber multi-media presentation, and when the show ended didn’t want to stop asking probing questions to gain even more insight into the movingly revealed historic events.
The performance began with Elgin engaging the students in conversation, discovering what they already knew about Anne Frank and the historical era in which she lived. The audience was aware of many pertinent facts, but their senses were heightened by questions tapping into their own experiences: “Can you remember what your life was like two years ago? Think of memorable events you’ve enjoyed since then; now, imagine that time being spent in a windowless room without any exposure to the world outside.”
Next, as the auditorium darkened, all eyes were fixed upon the stage where the actress told the moving story by interacting with recorded voices in front of a screen displaying archival film evoking the era when Hitler and the Nazis strove to rule the world. The audience learned that Anne carried her precious diary with her everywhere, including to Holland where she, her parents, and sister fled to escape the encroaching terror in their homeland. In that journal, she confided her feelings about her friends, extolled her love of American movies, and exposed her fun-loving spirit and joy in life, as well as her plan to become a writer. However, even in Holland, life for Jews soon became more and more restricted as Hitler’s armies moved in.
Not only were Jews required to always wear a visible Star of David on their clothing, they also were not allowed to visit Christians, go to the beach, sit in their own gardens, or listen to the radio. Even more ominous, every single day, someone disappeared from their daily lives. In 1942, the Frank family went into hiding, always remaining as quiet as possible to avoid discovery. Anne often fought with her sister Margot, as sisters do, but their fights consisted of angry notes because the sound of their voices could lead to their being found. In spite of their efforts, Anne and her family were betrayed, discovered, and sent first to a transit camp, then transported in one of the infamous cattle cars to Auschwitz. Their hair was shorn, a number painfully tattooed on their skin; they were given ill-fitting clothing, very little food or water, and forced into hard labor. One month later, Anne and her sister Margot were once again moved, this time to the camp at Bergen-Belsen, where they died just weeks before Germany surrendered to the Allies in 1945.
Elgin Kelly closed by urging her audience to learn their families’ histories, ask for personal stories, and record their findings so that those stories are not forgotten. The simple passage of time makes it much easier to forget what actually transpired in the past. As the actress reminded these youngsters, they are the last generation who will look into the eyes of a survivor of World War II, one who knows first-hand the horrors inflicted on humanity during those years. Six million Jews died during the Holocaust, but Anne Frank lives on—through her diary and the unforgettable words she wrote. And her story resonates in the lives of today’s teens who, thanks in part to this memorable production, will never forget.