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Anne Frank: Parallel Stories

October 3, 2019 | by Rivka Ronda Robinson

Anne Frank would have been 90 this year. A new documentary featuring Helen Mirren intertwines her story with five girls who survived the Holocaust.

Anne Frank would have been 90 this year. A new documentary tells the story of her life through the pages of her diary and debuts Oct. 17 in Australia.

The film, “Anne Frank: Parallel Stories,” features Academy Award-winning actress Dame Helen Mirren. It intertwines Anne’s story with that of five Holocaust survivors, who as girls also shared the same ideals, the same desire to live, and the same courage: Arianna Szörenyi, Sarah Lichtsztejn-Montard, Helga Weiss, and sisters Andra and Tatiana Bucci.

They are parallel lives that never cross, and yet are so close as to almost touch each other.

Born in Frankfurt on June 12, 1929, Anne Frank gained fame through her diary’s publication after her death in the Holocaust in 1945. The filmmakers call it an extraordinary text that has made the tragedy of Nazism known to millions of readers all over the world, and revealed the brilliant, enlightening intelligence of a young girl who wanted to become a writer.

‘Never Forget This Story,’ says Mirren

“This is a story we must never forget," Mirren said in a press release. "We are beginning to lose the generation of people who are living witness of what happened in Europe in those terrible days, and so it’s all more important to keep the memory alive looking into the future.”

“With the advent of the wars in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and with the immigration issue that’s happening in Europe, it’s so easy to start pointing your finger at different races, different tribes, different cultures, different people and say, ‘You’re to blame for my problems.’ So, I just feel the diary of Anne Frank is an amazing teaching tool, an amazing vessel to carry the real understanding of human experiences of the past into our present and very much into our future. I find it very, very important and that’s why I wanted to do this piece.”

It’s not the first time Mirren has graced a Jewish-themed film with her talent. She learned Hebrew and read up on Israeli history, the Mossad and Nazism in preparation for her role as a Jewish spy in “The Debt” in 2011. In the true story “Woman in Gold” in 2015, she portrayed Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee who took on the Austrian government in the fight for a Gustav Klimt painting of her aunt the Nazis stole from her family.

Diary Reveals a Young Life Cut Short

In “Anne Frank,” Mirren uses the device of Anne’s diary to introduce the young girl to audiences across the globe. The set is Anne’s room in the Frank family’s secret refuge in Amsterdam, which designers painstakingly reconstructed.

Young Italian actress Martina Gatti guides viewers through places across Europe that were part of Anne’s life and those of the Holocaust survivors. Gatti’s character communicates through a digital diary of sorts. She shares photos and posts that interpret what she discovers in the secret refuge in Amsterdam and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany where Anne and her sister, Margot, died.

Digital Diary Reaches Today’s Young Audiences

“We liked the idea of reaching young generations,” Rosella Gioffre, manager of international marketing and sales for co-producer Nexo Digital told She says Gatti’s digital diary speaks to her peers “in order to place the tragedies of the past in relation to the present, to understand what an antidote could be today against all forms of racism, discrimination and anti-Semitism.”

Gatti’s character introduces viewers to those who can still remember the Holocaust: Andra, Tatiana, Arianna, Helga, and Sarah. Their parallel stories tell of deportation and persecution as young girls. Denied the carefree light-heartedness of youth, they lost their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends and loved ones in concentration camps.

Andra and Tatiana Bucci are two sisters from Croatia. They were 4 and 6 when arrested with their mother and a cousin. First taken to Risiera di San Sabba concentration camp in Trieste, they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. When the Soviet army arrived in Auschwitz in 1945, only 650 children of various nationalities were alive, including Andra and Tatiana.

Arianna Szörenyi also lived in Croatia. She was 11 when deported and went through four concentration camps, from Risiera di San Sabba to Bergen-Belsen. She survived but lost seven members of her family.

Helga Weiss was born in the same year as Anne Frank. She spent her childhood in Prague until age 12, when she and her family were deported to the Terezin concentration camp. This was followed by Auschwitz, Freiberg and Mauthausen. Since childhood Helga has kept a diary mainly of drawings, an idea her father suggested to her.

Sarah Montard escaped the Vel d'Hiv roundup in Paris and went into hiding with her mother for two years until 1944 when she was reported, arrested and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. “The worst, most terrible thing was the flame from the crematorium. Night and day it rose and made a terrible noise, lighting up the sky that was pink with the flames. After what I experienced, I’m not afraid of anything anymore.” Like Anne Frank, Sarah was a prisoner at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

The documentary will be distributed to dozens of other countries after it debuts in Australia. It rolls out this fall in Canada, Italy, Switzerland and Uruguay, and in 2020 in Russia, Finland, Latvia, Sweden, Norway, Ecuador, Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, the United States, Israel and Spain.

Nexo Digital co-produced the film with 3D Produzioni and in cooperation with Anne Frank Fonds, the foundation Otto Frank set up in Basel, Switzerland, to commemorate the story of his family and his daughter Anne.


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