Fear is one of the most striking elements in The Diary Of Anne Frank. It controlled the lives of the eight people who hid in that famous Amsterdam attic. Would someone hear them? Would someone turn them in to the Nazis? Of course, someone eventually did.
But who? The identity of the informant has never been revealed, though several theories have been investigated. A new play, Blank Pages, being staged at Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley on Saturday, March 24, is a fictional rendering of the life of the informant and the consequences of his actions.
"Many people informed on Jews in hiding because the Nazis were offering financial compensation," says David Silberthau, the playwright of Blank Pages. "But this man turned in the one person who would become the face of the Holocaust."
If the topic seems unlikely for a Jewish playwright, it is three times so for Silberthau. First, he had never before written a play. Second, he was a 16-year-old sophomore at Lower Merion High School when he wrote it more than two years ago. (Silberthau won second place at the 2010 Philadelphia Young Playwrights Festival.)
The informant is an unlikely subject for Silberthau for a third reason: The young writer is the third generation descendant of a Holocaust survivor. His grandmother, Inga Silberthau, survived the Holocaust by being hidden, just like Anne Frank.
"My grandmother, her two sisters and their mother were born in Germany, then spent the war hidden in a small town in Belgium, divided up among different families," he says. "They were given aliases and pretended not to know each other. They survived the war. But my grandmother's father and brother were killed at Auschwitz."
Silberthau learned of his family's history when they traveled to Amsterdam in 2009. "The story trickled out over the years," he says. "But we went there, to Belgium, and actually met the families of the people who hid my grandmother and her family."
The Silberthaus also visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. "As we were walking out of the museum," Silberthau recalls, "my dad said, 'No one knows who turned them in.' And it made me think."
Six months later, Silberthau wrote his play. Over just nine days, he says, he created the one-acter that follows the main character at three different periods in his life, as he learns the consequences of his actions.
In June 2011, when he was a senior, it became the first student-written play to be staged at Lower Merion.
That's where Jane Jennings saw it. Jennings was so affected by the play that she went to work, arranging for it to be staged at Beth Am Israel, where she is a congregant.
What moved her so deeply? "First of all, nothing has ever been done about the man who turned in Anne Frank," Jennings says. "For him, we feel horror and revulsion, and then sympathy. You feel all of this at once and you're not sure which way to go. Do you feel badly for him? Or think that he is very awful? There isn't a pat ending."
One of those questions is the meaning of the play's title. "It could be, 'Does anyone ever get to start their life over with a blank page?" Silberthau says. "Or it could be the blank pages of the diary that Anne Frank never finished."
Silberthau has many blank pages to fill. Now a freshman at Columbia University, he is taking playwriting classes and investigating his creativity. "I'm still writing," he says. "I have other stories to tell."
To order tickets, call 610-667-1651.