PEACE WILL COME, ANNE FRANK INSISTS, YOU WILL SEE
Bernard Kops, Poetry & Peril:
Anne Frank's Fragments from Nowhere
Indigo Dreams Publishing, Devon, 2015
Reviewed by Thomas Ország-Land
BERNARD KOPS, the doyen of Anglo-Jewish letters, has responded to a global resurgence of violent anti-Semitism by issuing a new collection of verse called Anne Frank’s Fragments from Nowhere. This is his second major work exploring the legacy of the teenage diarist. Anne was murdered in Bergen-Belsen after hiding with her family for two exhausting years in a secret annex at the back of an Amsterdam building.
She returns in Bernard’s poetry to assure worried Jews everywhere:
... peace will come.
Bernard, a poet and playwright at last basking in world fame at the age of 89, is slightly older than Anne would be if she had been allowed to live. He is a descendant of working-class Dutch immigrants to Britain, whose entire extended family back in Europe perished during the Holocaust. He is, like all Jews alive today, a survivor acutely aware of a looming, ubiquitous presence of racist intolerance.
Seven decades after the Holocaust and a year after the horrendous Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris replicated worldwide, Jewish institutions in hundreds of population centres survive under armed guard. France, the home of Europe’s biggest Jewish community and the third biggest in the world, has declared a permanent state of emergency. It deploys troops in combat fatigues and wielding automatic weapons to control the wrath of Islamist fanatics encouraging the racist rampage of the native far-right and far-left rabble.
A wide range of xenophobic hate crimes has substantially increased throughout the West. Jewish community leaders perceive a level of existential threat that they have not experienced since the wartime deportation trains transporting the Kops and the Frank families and millions of other civilian captives across Europe to industrially organized slaughter. Jewish emigration to Israel has now also reached record levels.
The book confronts a crisis that may well intensify following the Great Powers’ dubious new nuclear power development accord with the theocracy of Baghdad. Its immediate effect will be to fuel the perilous conflagrations already engulfing the Middle East and extending to the European Union and Russia. For the compromise agreement has released an estimated $150bn in direct and indirect investment in the terrorist states of Iran and its client Syria, and also in numerous terrorist states within states like Hezbollah and Hamas.
The first German feature film based on the teenager’s Holocaust testimony, titled Das Tagebuch der Anne Frank (The Diary of Anne Frank), released at the 66th Berlin Film Festival during February. A Hollywood adaptation in 1959 won three Oscars.
Bernard’s collection addresses the future by insisting on recording the past. In the poem For the Record, he recalls:
They came for him in
Amsterdam, my grandfather David,
surrendered to the entire German army,
is of little consequence now;
was a little overcrowded,
The poet grew up in deep poverty in the East End of London “as a committed witness for the lost community of Amsterdam,” he recounts, “including my family and Anne’s. Her fate could so easily have been mine...”
He all but met her. He explains: “My first play, The Hamlet of Stepney Green” first performed at the Oxford Playhouse in 1957, “was translated into Dutch by Rosie Pool, an author who joined the Dutch Resistance during the war. She had escaped from the Nazi transit camp at Westbork,” a collection point from which the Jews were being dispatched to mass murder, “and her first task was to smuggle herself back and organize others.
“There she met and tutored Anne. Rosie talked to me endlessly about Anne’s character, personality, dreams and nightmares. All this has fed my imagination, and Anne became my close relative.”
The experience eventually led to Bernard’s play, the Dreams of Anne Frank, which opened in the Polka Theatre, London, in 1992. The play (Methuen Drama, England, 1997) has been touring the world ever since. The Hungarian version performed in 1998 at the Mahatma Gandhi School, Pécs, employed a cast of teenage Romany actors, perhaps a quarter million of whose people had been murdered during the Holocaust. The atmosphere was electric.
In Act One, Anne holds up a star on an empty stage as she turns to the audience. (The following text of her song is not included in the new collection.)
Fate gave me a yellow star.
Like Bernard, the real-life Anne had consciously prepared for a writing career, and she spectacularly succeeded. Her diary describing the fears as well as the tensions, loves, dreams and irritations of people hiding away from death in a terrorized city was published posthumously in1947 as Het Achterhuis (The Annex). Subsequent editions were titled The Diary of Anne Frank and Diary of a Young Girl. The book has been sold in more than 30m copies.
A fierce controversy is now raging over an extension of its copyright protection that would normally expire 70 years after the death of its author. Another book of the same period controversially just reissued on entering the public domain is Mein Kampf (My Struggle) by Adolf Hitler, a screed campaigning for the annihilation of the Jewish people.
Bernard is one of the best known writers of our time. All his writing is steeped in poetry. He is extraordinarily creative, prolific, fearless and compassionate, the author of some nine collections of verse, more than 40 plays for stage and television, 11 novels and two autobiographies.
Many of his books are constantly in print and his plays in production. His range of concerns is enormous, embracing Jewish identity, the many shades of love, family relationships, aging, fear, passion and mental illness. The Hamlet of Stepney Green, whose roots reach back to the tradition of Yiddish theatre, is widely recognized as an originator of Britain’s revolutionary, new wave, “kitchen-sink” theatre.
A seminal, book-length critical analysis of his growing corpus (Bernard Kops: Fantasist, London Jew, Apocalyptic Humorist, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2014, 168pp.) has been issued by Professor William Baker of Northern Illinois University and Prof. Jeanette Roberts Shumaker at San Diego State University. The monograph describes him as an influential innovator of British drama, an important social critic and a careful chronicler of the Anglo-Jewish society as well as the London Bohemian subculture of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, of which he was a part.
He is also a stubborn optimist convinced that well chosen words are mightier even than fleets of nuclear warheads. With a comradely wink towards Anna, Bernard includes in the new collection one of his best loved, old poems, Shalom Bomb. Here is one timely passage:
...I want a one-man-band-bomb. My own bomb!
THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent. His last major work was Christmas in Auschwitz: Holocaust Poetry Translated from the Hungarian of András Mezei (Smokestack, England, 2010).