May 17, 2001
Through Jewish Eyes
"Anne Frank and Me" by Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld (G.P. Putnam's Sons, $18.99)
Authors Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld remember the exact moment they conceived the idea for their latest book, "Anne Frank and Me." The husband-and-wife writing team had just watched an episode of "60 Minutes" featuring Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel. Bennett found herself as disturbed by the man's pleasant demeanor as his revisionist history. "You know, if you're a gentile teenager and you see a skinhead with a swastika carved into his forehead, you scoff," Bennett said. "But this jerk? He looks like someone's uncle. If you didn't know better, you could get sucked in."
A playwright and author of young-adult fiction, Bennett had found her next project -- making life under Nazi occupation a historical experience with relevance to modern teens. With Gottesfeld working on research and editing, they created the theatrical version of "Anne Frank and Me," which ran off-Broadway in 1996 with Bennett directing. Together, Bennett and Gottesfeld have adapted the stage version into a novel.
The story follows Nicole Burns, a suburban 10th-grader much more concerned with her current crush than with her class assignment to read Anne Frank's " The Diary of a Young Girl." Classmates and parents raise doubts that the Holocaust ever happened. While surfing the Internet, Nicole comes across an official-looking Web site which seems to prove this denial.
But soon after her Internet experience, Nicole is magically transported to Nazi-occupied Paris. She is forced to live a strange new life as a Jewish girl, enduring anti-Semitism and the ever-greater brutality of Nazi France. Hours before the Allies liberate Paris, Nicole is deported and finds herself in a cattle car bound for a concentration camp, where she comes face to face with Anne Frank.
Rather than write another book dealing with the horrors of the camps ("Camp survivors have written those stories better than we ever could," Gottesfeld said), Bennett and Gottesfeld shine a new light on the Holocaust through the eyes of a non-Jewish American teen. Extensively researched, "Anne Frank and Me" fights the damaging fiction of Holocaust deniers with engaging fiction for young adults.