dinsdag 19 mei 2015

Anne and Goebbels - The opposites of right and wrong

I found this old review I wrote for the now defunct website LookListenPlay.com, some five years ago. It's on this wonderful play by Eddy Habbema called 'Anne and Goebbels: A Confrontation'. Reading it I started to remember the play, and I think it is worthwhile to re-publish the review here. The image of Anne Frank on one side of the stage and Joseph Goebbels on the other, both reading from their respective diaries, is quite a haunting one.

Anne and Goebbels - The opposites of right and wrong
(written March 2010)

Last week I went to see quite an interesting play at the Bellevue Theater in Amsterdam. Two people who can be seen as complete opposite poles and key figures in the imagery of World War II together on a stage, both reading from their respective diaries. One a man, hungry for respect and honour, with a deep love for his country and for a certain Adolf Hitler. The other a young girl, adolescent in her manner of dreaming, yet almost woman-like in some of her remarks on life.

Putting the characters of German Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels and Dutch Jewish girl Anne Frank on the same stage seems a bit controversial at first, but the play “Anne and Goebbels: A Confrontation” by Eddy Habbema has a lot more to offer than mere sensationalism. The play focuses solely on the content of the respective diaries of Frank and Goebbels, with an occasional original audio bite or film clip to give some extra historical context. Anne Frank, played wonderfully by the beautiful Merel Polat, mostly sits on or around her bed on the left side of the stage, reading from her diary, which she named Kitty. She considers Kitty to be the only friend who can really listen to her, especially when she is hiding with her family in the Achterhuis. On the other side of the stage, sitting behind his desk, we find Joseph Goebbels, played by a charismatic Victor Löw. At times quiet and at times shouting, Goebbels recites his diary starting somewhere in the late nineteenth century. Through his remarks, we travel through the times of World War I and the Weimar Republic as seen through the eyes of a becoming national-socialist. The way Goebbels describes the uprising of Adolf Hitler in the late twenties and early thirties of the last century makes one feel more than a little unsettled, not so much because of the knowledge we now have, but more because it is not hard at all to understand some of the things Goebbels is saying.

It doesn’t take long though before one notices that Goebbels becomes more and more entangled in his own megalomania and neuroticism and starts saying things about ‘the Problem of the Jews’. This is where the worlds of Goebbels and Frank start to touch upon each other. This is where the play offers an intriguing view: on the left we see Anne Frank, sad and confused when she hears about Jewish friends being deported or murdered. On the right we hear Joseph Goebbels being ecstatic about the fact that with Hitler in power Germany finally has a good answer to all the problems caused by Jews. We hear Anne Frank being carefully optimistic when she hears the English talk about a possible end to the war and we see Joseph Goebbels almost collapsing out of despair when he hears of the German defeat in Stalingrad. Anne Frank talks about how she doesn’t believe that war is only something of the leaders of the world, but that it’s just as much something of the little man, who goes along with things and shows an evil side as well. Joseph Goebbels talks about the strength and spirit of the common people, who can help the country win this war by showing a strong backbone. This interplay of opposed emotions and worldviews makes this play wonderful to follow and gives a more nuanced view on the whole subject matter.

Unfortunately, the things being said in this play are not just history. Many things still relate to the world we currently live in. When Joseph Goebbels talks about “the problem of the Jews, who refuse to become true Germans”, we can translate this to many nationalistic and religious warfare. Even in the Netherlands as we speak things like this are going on, with the rise of Dutch politic Geert Wilders, who talks about ‘the problem of Moroccans, who refuse to become true Dutch citizens’. Or take a look at the situation in Israel and Palestina, where discrimination based on religious and nationalistic beliefs is the story of everyday. The play “Anne and Goebbels” is therefore worthwhile for everyone to see and talk about. Apart from it being an aesthetic great piece of work, it deals with issues that no country should ever forget, lest it happens again. As Merel Polat states in an interview: “Anne Frank is not The Jew and Joseph Goebbels not The Nazi.”

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