Thursday, January 17, 2013

Teaching Anne Frank – The Whole Story

Many middle school English teachers teach some version of the story of Anne Frank to their kids.  In Shawnee Mission, we teach the play version of the diary.   Most of us remember Anne as being our first introduction to the Holocaust.  She is someone that students can easily identify with, and also someone who students can admire for her strength of character and insight into the world.  However, if you teach only Anne’s diary, or some form of it like the play, students are not really getting a Holocaust story.  They are getting a wonderful story of a girl who is in hiding, during the Holocaust.  I feel it is important for teachers to teach their students what happened to Anne and her family before they went into hiding and after, in order for them to see who she really was and what was really happening to her and the millions of other victims of the Holocaust.

One excellent resource, in my opinion, is the movie Anne Frank: The Whole Story (2001).  This was a miniseries which is now available in its entirety on DVD.   It was made without actually using the diary – the Anne Frank Foundation did not allow them to use her actual words.  However, it is based on several other biographies and testimony of people who knew her or shared experiences with her.  This movie is in three parts.  Part 1 tells of their life before Hitler came to power in Amsterdam, all the way through to their going into hiding.  I have found it to be an excellent way for the kids to understand how their lives changed once Hitler came into power, the family dynamics before they are forced to live in hiding, and who Anne really was, apart from her diary entries.  

Part 2 is the story of their hiding.  We watch this after we have read the play.  My advanced students read the play as well as about 5 diary entries, so they can see how the play was different than the actual diary.   While it follows the basic story line of the play, it shows in more detail the dynamics of the people living there and just how hard it was.  It also includes all four of the helpers, rather than just Miep and Mr. Kraler in the play.  I have found it to be a great supplement to reading the diary or play.  The kids can see everything a little more realistically than the play, and from more than just Anne’s perspective in the diary.

Part 3 tells the story of what happened to them after they were caught.  To me, this is the most important part of the story that we don’t talk about.  So many people think of Anne’s life only in hiding.  They don’t know (and probably don’t want to know) what happened to her in the camps.  I think it is important to understand how terribly difficult the remainder of her life was, and how strong she did stay despite the conditions.  I also think it’s important to put the diary and play into perspective.  I have my students think about her most famous line, “I still believe people are good at heart,” and analyze whether that is an accurate statement of Anne’s whole life, or just how she was feeling at the time.  Would she have said that in Bergen Belsen?  

The film is long; there definitely is merit in showing portions of it rather than the whole thing.  However, if time allows, I have found that the students get so much more from seeing the whole film in conjunction with reading the diary and/or play, and there is so much that you can teach while watching the film.

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