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'Through the Eyes of a Friend'

by MAUREEN DOLAN
Staff Writer | November 9, 2010 8:00 PM

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Nancy McNeil, of Post Falls, is brought to tears during a performance by Living Voices depicting the story of Sarah Weis, a fictional friend of Anne Frank.

COEUR d'ALENE - Nancy McNeil read "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl," when she was 11 years old, more than 30 years ago.

As a child, the Post Falls woman found the book so compelling, she couldn't put it down.

"I remember reading it under the covers and crying and crying," McNeil said.

The story still has the same affect today on McNeil. She was one of 60 people to turn out Monday at North Idaho College for "Through the Eyes of a Friend," a program about Frank, a young Jewish teen who documented her experiences while in hiding in Nazi-occupied Holland during World War II.

"Coming today was my way of paying homage," said McNeil, as she wiped her eyes following the 25-minute free show sponsored by the Human Rights Education Institute.

Actress Rachael McClinton, the artistic director and founder of the Seattle-based Living Voices performance company, gave the dramatic, educational presentation.

Using archival footage as a backdrop, McClinton tells Frank's story, the story of millions of Holocaust victims, from the point of view of a fictional best friend, Sarah Weis.

"I guess the key to this is, we are living in a time when the young people who see this piece, when they're adults, there will not be any Holocaust survivors left," McClinton said. "We're trying to keep the story alive. It's about something that means a lot to me. It's to not let the story stop being told when we lose that valuable voice, of the survivors ... I want to feel that we hopefully honor history by speaking it in the first person."

The program chronicles Frank's experiences with her "friend" Sarah following the fall of Holland to the Nazis, before the Frank family and Sarah's family were forced to go into hiding.

While the girls do things most teens do - think about boys and dream about becoming movie stars - Amsterdam is becoming an increasingly inhospitable place for them to live.

The teen friends talk about some of their favorite pastimes being outlawed for them - going to the beach and listening to the radio - while at the same time, it becomes illegal for Jews to stay out after 8 p.m. or visit Christians.

Then the girls' classmates start "disappearing," and one day their teacher begins to cry during class. She tells them the Nazis took her husband away. Then, the teacher doesn't return to school.

Before long, the girls are separated because they must both go into hiding.

About two years later, they are reunited at a prison work camp, and are eventually sent together by train to Auschwitz.

"There's this oily stench of death," says McClinton, playing the role of Sarah.

The pair end up at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where the 15-year-old Anne Frank and her older sister die from typhus, one month before the camp was liberated by the Allies.

Sarah survives the camps and her story continues, leading her to emigrate to the United States.

Otto Frank, Anne's father and the only Frank family member to survive the camps, sends Anne's diary to Sarah, an artist, to illustrate.

"It made me realize we the living are not the only survivors. Anne's a survivor through her words. I live so I must remember, and I share my memories through my drawings so no one will ever forget," says McClinton as Sarah. "Through her diary, Anne is here. She shares her memories too."

The Human Rights Education Institute is sponsoring performances of "Through the Eyes of a Friend" throughout the week at schools in the Lakeland, Kootenai, Plummer-Worley, Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls school districts.

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