Cynthia Seckler, who appeared as Florence in “The Odd Couple – Female Version” last year in Stowe, wasn’t sure she could take on a role in “The Diary of Anne Frank” this year. The story hit too close to home.

“If not for the strength of my Oma, I wouldn’t be here,” she said. “She got the family out of Nazi Germany. She wrote a letter to her cousin to sponsor them, and when they were advised to come to the U.S. and earn money first and then send for my father, she said no. She wouldn’t leave without him.”

Now, in the role of Edith Frank, Anne’s mother, Seckler portrays a woman who, like Seckler’s grandmother, would do anything to keep her children safe.

Choosing to play Edith was not an easy decision.

“I wanted to be in a show with Stowe Theatre Guild. Before auditions, I looked up a production of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ and watched it and I cried the whole way through. I thought, ‘I can’t do this.’ I told my family I couldn’t do it,” Seckler said.

Ultimately, however, she accepted the role.

One of Seckler’s cast members is Julia Kitonis, who plays Miep Gies. She is a junior at the University of Vermont, majoring in theater, with a minor in Holocaust studies.

“So many people have a similar story, but it’s rare to have as much information as Cynthia does, a letter and a photo,” Kitonis said. “All I have is my family’s deportation dates.”

It was only a few years ago that Kitonis discovered her family connection to the Franks’ story. She is descended from Dutch Jews. Twenty-seven members of her extended family were deported from Amsterdam in 1944. Almost all perished.

“As someone with family ties and as someone who studies this material, I knew the history would consume a lot of me,” Kitonis said. “I wondered if I could let go of the details and be an actor instead of a student or descendant. It’s been really nice to have someone else in the cast who understands what that’s like.”

During the rehearsal process, Seckler shared her family’s story. She has a photo of her father with his aunt Hilde and cousin Ernst, taken just before the family members parted for what would be the last time.

Although Seckler’s father and his parents escaped to the U.S., Hilde and Ernst remained in Germany. Hilde later wrote to the family in the U.S. pleading for help to escape Germany or at least to help Ernst get out, but it was too late. Both were killed in 1943.

Seckler said, “You see the letter from the person who didn’t survive, but we have those words, and Anne didn’t survive, but we have her words. We don’t have the letter from my Oma but that letter got us out. She was very strong. Anne’s diary gives us hope for the future, because her words were saved. When you have the words, you can have hope."

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