Plot: In WWII Amsterdam, a young girl and her family must hide from the Nazis in “the hidden annex.” Unimaginable horrors go on outside their tiny sanctuary. Inside, she struggles to understand, coping with both the normal confusions of adolescence and the the most abnormal and terrifying circumstances.
The movie begins as Otto Frank (Joseph Schildkraut), Anne’s father, returns to the annex after the war, the only one who survived. He finds her diary and begins to read. Anne (Millie Perkins), her parents, her older sister Margot (Diane Baker), Mr. And Mrs. Van Daan (Shelley Winters and Lou Jacobi), and their teen-age son, Peter (Richard Beymer) are welcomed into the annex by two brave gentile friends. The door to the annex is hidden by a bookcase. The annex is in the attic of a spice factory, and during the day, when employees are working, the families must be absolutely silent. Their friends have only three forged ration cards, so the food will be very limited. The families settle in hopefully.
But the claustrophobic living conditions, fear of discovery, and lack of food create stress, and the families bicker. Anne teases Peter and quarrels with her mother. Later, they are joined by a dentist, Mr. Dussell (Ed Wynn), who tells them that things have become much worse, and that many of the people they know have been taken off to concentration camps. They are almost discovered twice, once by a burglar, who breaks in to the factory, and once by the police. A radio gives them a connection to what is going on; they hear Hitler speak, and listen to music. They celebrate Hannukah, and Anne gives everyone small gifts she has made for them. She and Peter become close, and despite the lack of privacy, are able to share their feelings. Just as they are rejoicing that the war is almost over, they are found by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps.
Discussion: This is a faithful and affecting (if long) rendition of Anne Frank’s diary, and of her family’s experiences. Director George Stevens used the actual location (now a museum in Amsterdam) as a model for his set, and recreated every detail for authenticity. In addition to discussions of the Holocaust, this movie raises issues about the way that families work together (or don’t) in times of stress. Anne’s famous statement that, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart” is also worth discussing.
Questions for Kids:
· The Van Daans each have something that is very important to them: the cat, the food, the coat. Why is that? What does it tell you about each of them? What does it tell you about the impact of hiding?
· In what ways to the people behave like anyone living under normal circumstances? In what ways do they behave differently?
· Why is Anne’s relationship with her father different from her relationship with her mother?
· What do Anne’s Hannukah gifts tell you about the people she gives them to? About her?
· Is Anne’s father like Pollyanna when he tells her that she should be glad there will be no more fights about wearing boots or practicing, and says “How very fortunate we are, when you think of what is happening outside?”
Connections: “Anne Frank Remembered,” an outstanding documentary about Anne and her family, won an Oscar in 1996. “The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank” is a made-for-television drama starring Mary Steenburgen as Miep Gies, the woman who hid Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis. It provides a worthwhile opportunity to see the famous story from another perspective, and to consider the character of those who risked their lives to save others.
Activities: The diary itself should be read by every teenager. There is a lot of information for people of all ages about the Holocaust. Younger children should read the award-winning book by Lois Lowrey, Number the Stars, based on a true story, in which a little girl from Amsterdam helps some Jews escape. Children and especially teenagers may like to confide in a diary; remember Anne’s saying that, “I can shake off everything when I write.”