By Cnaan Liphshiz/(JTA) – A play that ignores Anne Frank’s Jewish identity and features an unfounded assault allegation against a Jew who hid with her is generating controversy in the Netherlands. The play, which is slated to premiere Saturday in the Netherlands, is set in modern times and mentions neither the Nazis nor why they murdered Anne Frank, the teenage diarist who wrote her famous journal while hiding in German-occupied Amsterdam during the Holocaust. A dress rehearsal last week attended by several critics included an invented assault by Fritz Pfeffer against Margot Frank, Anne Frank’s sister. Pfeffer was a real-life Jewish dentist who was in hiding with Frank and her family and died in the Holocaust. It has never been alleged that he assaulted Frank or anyone else.
Esther Voet, the editor-in-chief of the Dutch-Jewish weekly NIW and a former leader of the CIDI watchdog on antisemitism, condemned the play as “an unscrupulous falsification of history” in a scathing op-ed published Friday, Nov. 3. Apparently, “that pesky historical context, the one about the persecution of the Jews, that had to be done away with already,” she wrote of the play, which was produced by Arjen Stuurman and directed by Ilja Pfeijffer. It is titled “Achter het Huis,” a phrase that means “behind the house,” and echoes the Dutch-language name that Frank gave the secret annex where she hid. Voet also protested how Pfeijffer “pressed his fat thumb” on Pfeffer and “made him guilty of an act of violence. Presto: Drama!” She also wrote that it was “abjectly tasteless.” The play is the “latest expression of abuse of Anne Frank’s memory,” wrote Voet, citing other such abuses, including claims that Frank was a lesbian and her likening to Palestinians.
The Volkskrant reported last week that Pfeijffer is facing a lawsuit for copyright infringement by the Anne Frank Fonds, the Switzerland-based organization set up by the late Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father and sole survivor from her nuclear family, who entrusted the organization with the rights to her diary. But a spokesman for the Anne Frank Fonds told JTA his organization “cannot confirm” this, adding that they are “monitoring the situation.”
Pfeijffer, who is also a poet, has a history of making controversial statements, including about Jews.
Last year, he called Leon de Winter, a well-known Dutch-Jewish novelist and playwright who wrote for the Anne Frank Fonds a 2014 theater play about Anne Frank, a “militant Jew.” That charge came in a column by Pfeijffer about Winter’s decision to leave his former publisher over its hiring of a Belgian author, Dyab Abou Jahjah. Abou Jahjah supports Hezbollah, has called for violence against Israelis and spoke of his “feeling of victory” following the 9/11 attacks. Abou Jahjah also called Antwerp, which has a large community of Orthodox Jews, the “international capital of the Zionist lobby,” according to NRC. “Abou Jahjah speaks out for oppressed Palestinians and that makes him an anti-Semite for de Winter,” Pfeijffer wrote. He identified Abou Jahjah as a founder of the now-defunct Arab European League which a decade ago posted on its website a caricature of Anne Frank in bed with Adolf Hitler and another caricature suggesting the Holocaust never happened, which a judge ordered removed.
In 2015, Pfeijffer published a poem in the voice of a Palestinian man who lost his home and whose daughter was mutilated “by Jews who trampled on our holy land with boots that can do no wrong because they are of Jews, because of what went on before.”