‘Diary’ discourse: Southern Cayuga students speak with ‘Anne Frank’ cast


By the time the Seneca Community Players’ last dress rehearsal of “The Diary of Anne Frank” ended, many of the Southern Cayuga Central School District students in attendance were rapt.

The students were in the audience for a question-and-answer session with the show’s actors Thursday at the theater, located at the Partridge Building in Seneca Falls. The talkback was set up by the Southern Cayuga Anne Frank Tree Project, a district organization meant to promote education and peace.

Around 14 students and some adults saw the play, which is based on the personal written entries of Anne Frank, the renowned teenager who hid in the annex of a warehouse with her family and four others during the Holocaust. She was found with the others, and ultimately died in a concentration camp. Of the eight people in the annex, only her father, Otto Frank — played in the Seneca Community Players’ production by Steve Mitchell — survived World War II.

The tree project’s name refers to a tree Frank wrote about in her diary. The tree sat outside the annex, and she viewed it as a symbol of hope. After the tree was blown down in 2010, The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect selected the Southern Cayuga district and 10 other sites in the country to receive and plant its saplings.

The theater’s stage was on a lower floor of the building with the windows shut. From the moment the Franks enter the annex to when the Nazi officers haul the eight victims away, most of the actors were on stage for the entire production. During intermission, the performers silently went about their characters’ day-to-day activities as the stage lights stayed on. The break was only signaled by the house lights brightening and a woman standing by the theater door.

After the curtain call, the actors stayed on stage to field questions. Southern Cayuga student Kadrian Rossbach, 14, said the show was interesting and “amazing to watch,” before asking the actors how it felt bringing actual human beings to life.

Susie Cornett, who played Anne’s mother, Edith Frank, said she drew from experiences with her own two daughters to depict Edith’s conflicts with Anne.

“All of you girls or teenagers probably butt heads with your mother at times, right?” Cornett asked as the young audience murmered in agreement.

Cornett said she also connected to Edith through reading about her and constantly thinking about how Edith would react to every line and moment.

Eric Jansen, the play’s director, pitched the idea of students doing a question-and-answer session with the actors, and the Southern Cayuga Anne Frank Tree Project loved the idea. Speaking on Oct. 4, Jansen said he was “elated” to have students talk to the performers.

He said he and the entire cast and crew felt a responsibility to be accurate, down to the color scheme of a prayer shawl and the fringes on the corner of the garment. He said cast members did their own deep dives into research, even learning the Yiddish lyrics of songs the characters sing to comfort themselves and others.

The production used the version of the script by Wendy Kesselman, who revised the original version of the play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Kesselman’s revision included material from Anne Frank’s diary that had been omitted from earlier scripts, like her writing about her attraction to women’s bodies — which was greeted with subdued, uncomfortable laughs and amused looks from some of the teenagers during the dress rehearsal.

Jansen believes Kesselman’s changes amounted to a fuller depiction of the teenager as she actually was, from her hopes and dreams to her burgeoning sexuality. The director also felt it was important to show the emotional high and lows those eight people experienced while sequestered between the same few walls for 25 months.

“They had real trials and real tribulations, and real joy and real expectations that we have without being in those extraordinary circumstances,” Jansen said.

At the talkback, 13-year-old Riley Binns asked the actors who played the Nazi officers what it was like to portray hated figures. Tom Hoster, who played Karl Silberbauer — who actually arrested Anne Frank and the others — likened it to film actors playing villains, and said he had fun being the bad guy. To keep things light for himself, he gave his henchman officers silly names like “Stinky feet.”

The production’s Anne Frank, Union Springs sophomore Emma DeGroff, said that she heavily researched the part. She and other cast members also made flash cards to pronounce the Yiddish terms correctly. DeGroff said she was glad she was able to “carry (Anne Frank’s) legacy” through her performance.

Bill Zimpfer, an English and journalism teacher at Southern Cayuga and a member of the Southern Cayuga Anne Frank Tree Project, said that even though he wouldn’t be able to go to the dress rehearsal, he was glad the attending students — many of whom were drama club members — were going. He said he teaches the play in class and encourages students interested in drama to go see shows. Zimpfer said the school district, as host site to one of the saplings, has a “strong focus” on Holocaust education.

Speaking after the talkback, Kadrian Rossbach said she was moved by the production.

“It felt like I was feeling with them, and (I) just felt very emotional connecting with the characters,” Rossbach said.


Author Jack Mayer Visits the Southern Cayuga Anne Frank Tree Site

20170505_152058_resized_1The Southern Cayuga Anne Frank Tree Project was proud to welcome author Jack Mayer to Southern Cayuga.  Dr. Mayer was the keynote speaker at our Annual Difference Makers’ Dinner which took place on May 5th, 2017.   Difference Maker Awards were presented to Jesse Platt and Dick and Cathy Burns.

Jack Mayer is a pediatrician and a writer.  Dr. Mayer was a National Cancer Institute Fellow at Columbia University researching the molecular biology of childhood cancer.  He is the author of the award-winning non-fiction Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project, which tells the story of a Polish Catholic social worker who organized a rescue network of fellow social workers to save 2,500 Jewish children from certain death in the Warsaw ghetto.

In addition to giving an inspirational speech at the Annual Difference Makers’ Dinner, Dr. Mayer lectured to Southern Cayuga School District students.  Dr. Mayer also had the chance to tour the SCCS Anne Frank Tree Site.  We were honored to host his visit to Southern Cayuga.





Holocaust Survivor Marion Blumenthal-Lazan visits Southern Cayuga Anne Frank Tree Site

20160513_151659_resizedThe Southern Cayuga Anne Frank Tree Project was honored to welcome back Marion Blumenthal-Lazan and her husband, Nathaniel, to our sapling tree site on Friday, May 13, 2016.  Marion and Nathaniel were in our area on a 9 day visit, in which they lectured at 10 separate school districts in Central New York.  This is the 15th consecutive year that Marion and Nathaniel have lectured in our region, sharing their message of how to make this world a better place by promoting hope, respect, education, hard work, acceptance of others, courage, and the need for us all to be good to each other.

Marion’s visit was especially meaningful, as our tree site, created by Phil Donovan, contains references and images inspired by Marion.  Eleven boulders surround the tree site, representing the number of Anne Frank trees given to the United States.  There are also 4 small round boulders of the same type of stone placed amongst the other boulders.  These four boulders reference Marion’s metaphor of the four perfect pebbles used in her book of the same name.  Witnessing Marion walk around our tree site and search for the “four perfect pebbles” was a very meaningful and emotional experience for us all.

Marion was present at, and participated in, the planting ceremony of our sapling tree on June 12, 2013.  She was also the keynote speaker at the “standing room only” ceremony held later that evening.  You can view the video of the planting ceremony at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZLp87ziTJI.

Marion Blumenthal-Lazan travels internationally as a holocaust speaker.  Over one million students and adults have listened to Marion’s lectures.  You can visit her website at www.fourperfectpebbles.com.

SCAFTP Presents Linda Sue Park, Author of A Long Walk to Water


Join Us for our Annual Celebration!


May 20, 2016 at 6 pm

Southern Cayuga High School
2384 State Route 34B, Aurora NY

Difference Maker Dinner &
Tours of Anne Frank Tree Site at 6 pm

Event Program at 7 pm

Dinner catered by Kendra’s Culinary Creations, $5 per person. Reservations preferred; please confirm attendance via email to scfranktree@gmail.com. Congratulations to Our 2016 Difference Maker Award Recipients  Paul & Jane Simkin and Sydney Hasenjager. Downtown Books and Coffee will be on site for book sales and signing by the Author.


Holocaust Commemoration

Please join the Ithaca Area United Jewish Community for a very special event, Thursday May 5 2016 from 7-9 pm, at Temple Beth-El, 402 N. Tioga Street, Ithaca NY.

Helen Levinson will be the featured speaker at the Ithaca Holocaust commemoration event on the evening of May 5th at 7 PM, in the sanctuary of Temple Beth El.

Helen is an 85 year old Rochester resident, who grew up in a Jewish family in Poland. Her father was a brewmaster at a Jewish owned brewery in Lublin. When the Nazi occupation began during WW II, her family was allowed to live in the brewery, rather than sent to live in the ghetto. Helen will tell us about her time in a concentration camp and her escape from Poland.

A reception will follow the presentation.


Anne Frank Tree Project becoming more active in Southern Cayuga community

The Southern Cayuga Anne Frank Tree Project has, in the past month, made a significant impact on a local nutrition initiative, helped advance its site development and announced a year’s worth of events and programming.. Read more here.

A Year In Review

Our first newsletter has been published. View it here!

Southern Cayuga Anne Frank Tree Project Completes Site Improvements


Annual Birthday Celebration June 12


The Southern Cayuga Anne Frank Tree Project will hold its Annual Celebration on Anne Frank’s Birthday Friday, June 12th at 7 p.m. at the Southern Cayuga High School Auditorium. The program will include Gospel Music by The Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers, keynote speaker Fabina Colon, Director of the Ithaca Multicultural Resource Center and the presentation of two Difference Maker Awards. Refreshments and a visit to the Anne Frank Tree Sapling (one of only 11 in the country) will follow the program. Southern Cayuga High School is located on Route 34 B in Poplar Ridge, NY.

More information:
The Southern Cayuga Anne Frank Tree Project (SCAFTP) will host a birthday celebration in the high school auditorium onFriday, June 12, 2015, marking Anne Frank’s birthday and the second anniversary of the planting of the Anne Frank sapling at Southern Cayuga. The program begins at 7 p.m.

Admission is free and the public is warmly invited to attend.

The evening celebration will feature gospel music by The Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers, a keynote address by Fabina Colon, Director of the Ithaca Multicultural Resource Center and the presentation of Difference Maker awards to SCCS senior Emily Fedrizzi and faculty member Mary Ferro.

Dorothy Cotton, currently an Ithaca resident, was a leader of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and a member of Martin Luther King Jr.’s inner circle. Among the positions she held she was education director of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was with him in Memphis in 1967 when he was assassinated. The Dorothy Cotton Jubilee singers are associated with The Dorothy Cotton institute at Cornell University. The group continues to spread her message of freedom and hope to people around the world through music.

Southern Cayuga Community Read May 6th


The Southern Cayuga Community Read will take place on Wednesday, May 6th at 7 pm at the Emily Howland Elementary School Library. View the Community Read Flyer.

The book chosen this year is “A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School” by Carlotta Walls Lanier. The author was one of the “Little Rock Nine”.

Books are available at the Hazard Library on Route 34B in Poplar Ridge and the Aurora Free Library on Route 90.

The event is cosponsored by the Southern Cayuga Anne Frank Tree Project whose theme for the year is “Human Rights? Can One Person Make a Difference?”

For more information call Aurora Free Library at 364-8074 or Hazard Library at 364-7975.