AUGUSTA — Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, whose diary found after her death recounted the harrowing life of Jews hiding from German troops during the Holocaust, vowed to make sure her words were not forgotten.

Accomplished actor Roger Guenveur Smith, in a presentation Sunday afternoon at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine in Augusta, helped fulfill that vow in his one-man show telling the story of Otto Frank.

“I will die being your father and the keeper of your flame, and the world will never forget your words,” Smith, portraying Otto Frank, said in his emotionally draining, hourlong performance.

Despite successfully hiding above a business in Amsterdam for two years, Anne Frank and her family eventually were discovered by German troops.

Actor Roger Guenveur Smith performs Sunday October 20, 2019 “Otto Frank,” a new solo performance piece exploring the story and legacy of Anne Frank’s father. The 60 minute show was held at The Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine in Augusta. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

They became separated in concentration camps and Otto Frank learned, after the war, he was the only member of his family, which also included his wife and another daughter, to survive.

He later discovered his late daughter’s diary, kept during their time in hiding, at the property where they had hidden, now known as the Anne Frank House. He had the diary published. “The Diary of a Young Girl,” translated into numerous languages, was widely and made into a film.

As a steward of his daughter’s legacy, Frank faced accusations he had made up his daughter’s words because they were too nuanced for a 13-year-old, and criticism he was trying to profit from her death.

Smith, 64, has appeared in eight films by filmmaker Spike Lee, including “Do the Right Thing,””Rodney King,”  and “Malcolm X.” More recently, he has appeared in the movies “Dope” and “The Birth of a Nation,” and his one-man shows include “A Huey P. Newton Story.”

Smith’s return Sunday to the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine came a year after his first visit to the center, when he was still researching and developing the one-man show. He presented to a rapt audience of about 40 people on Sunday a performance inspired by his visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

The Los Angeles-born Smith toured the Holocaust Center’s Michael Klahr Center in Augusta, where he examined the center’s artifacts from the Holocaust as part of his research tour. He also visited the Maine State Museum’s “Maine + Jewish: Two Centuries” exhibit, which illustrated Jewish life in Maine, which he said he would use to help inform his piece on Otto Frank.

Audience members gave lengthy applause to Smith as his performance closed Sunday, prompting him to turn and gesture to the photographs of Holocaust survivors that line the walls of the stage at the center, and applaud them. He recalled last year when he examined the Holocaust and Human Rights Center’s artifacts as part of his research tour that he saw yellow stars jews were forced to wear, children’s shoes and a canister of Zyklon B, the gas used in Nazi death chambers.

“That’s all right here under this roof,” Smith said, “so this is a special place to attend this work.”

Smith powerfully portrayed how Otto Frank struggled to tell his daughter’s account of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed, in a diary he gave her on her 13th birthday.

“When I was handed your little book for the first time, the first tear hit my eye, then the second and the third,” Smith, as Otto Frank, said. “You. Your mother. Your sister. The gas and typhus took you out and that’s when I began to shout. And curse my existence. Survivors guilt, is that what they call it?”

Frank died at 91 in 1980.

Smith worked contemporary references to violent acts that have taken place since then into his performance, recalling, for example, the 2018 attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue in which 11 people were fatally shot, and the 2009 shooting of Stephen Tyrone Johns, a black security officer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., by then-88-year-old white supremacist and Holocaust denier James Wenneker von Brunn, for whom Johns had opened the door to the museum.

Smith said Brunn, who was shot by other guards at the museum, was saved by a Jewish surgeon who operated on him after the attack.

Marc Anthony Thompson, right, arranges Sunday October 20, 2019 sound and music for “Otto Frank,” a new solo performance piece exploring the story and legacy of Anne Frank’s father performed by actor Roger Guenveur Smith, left. The 60 minute show at The Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine in Augusta was followed by a discussion with Smith and Thompson. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

The performance Sunday featured sound created live by Marc Anthony Thompson, with whom Smith said he frequently collaborates. He said the audio imagery was based upon his visit to the Anne Frank House.

The free, 60-minute performance, funded by the Cultural Events Committee and Diversity Committee of the University of Maine at Augusta, was followed by a discussion with the artists.

David Greenham, associate director of the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, said he first heard of Smith’s interest in telling the story of Otto Frank about 18 months ago from a friend who emailed him, saying Smith wanted to bring his then-unwritten piece to New England.

“This has been in my head for that long. I can’t wait to see this exploration, and today’s the day,” Greenham said before Smith’s performance. “I’ve not seen the show, but I know the person and the work he does and the way he approaches his work. We’re going to have an experience.”

Smith and Thompson will return to the Klahr Center at noon Monday for a “lunch and learn” that is open to students, staff, faculty and members of the community. The artists are expected to discuss their creative processes.


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