By Ron Hayes
Daniela Guarino was given just 10 minutes to dramatize the tragedy and triumph of the Holocaust. It took her 10 months, but she triumphed.
She was 13, an eighth-grader at American Heritage School of Boca/Delray.
The National History Day Contest was 45. Founded at Case Western Reserve University in 1974, it attracted 124 students that first year.
This year, more than half a million junior and senior high school students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and international schools in China, Korea and South Asia would compete in five categories.
Obviously, a girl from Manalapan didn’t have a chance.
But she also didn’t have a choice.
“It was required,” Daniela conceded. “Everyone at American Heritage has to participate in National History Day.”
Last year, she’d chosen Billie Jean King in the Exhibit category, creating a large panel about the tennis legend and feminist. This year, she decided to enter the Individual Performance category, for which she would develop a monologue lasting no longer than 10 minutes.
“I love acting, and I liked that Anne Frank could find the triumph in any tragedy,” Daniela said. “When bad things happened, she bounced back. But she was a common topic, and I thought being Anne Frank in a performance would be kind of weird. Me as Anne Frank, talking about myself?”
And then she remembered Hermine “Miep” Gies.
From July 8, 1942, when Anne and her family went into hiding in the attic of her father’s Amsterdam spice company, until Aug. 4, 1944, when they were betrayed and taken away by the Nazis, Miep Gies risked her own life to bring them food. And when they were gone, she found and saved the diary her teenage friend had left behind.
And so, in August 2018, Daniela began researching Miep Gies and Anne Frank.
“National History Day is about learning, so they force you to find the cause of historic events and the long-term effects,” she said. “The Holocaust didn’t just happen.”
To prepare her monologue, she scoured websites for magazine articles, watched videos and read books. She read The Diary of Anne Frank and delved into Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s autobiography.
“I was absolutely disgusted with each word I read,” she said of the latter.
She interviewed Marion Blumenthal Lazan, a Holocaust survivor.
She found a wig and a 1940s dress on amazon.com and built a 6-by-2-foot revolving set from enlarged photographs of Anne Frank’s hiding place and Miep Gies’ apartment.
On Jan. 23, she premiered her monologue, competing against two other American Heritage students at school.
“Hello, children,” she began, adopting the accent she’d learned from video interviews with Gies. “My name is Miep Gies and they call me a Righteous Gentile, which is a fancy term for someone who helps others.”
In a mere 10 minutes, she moved from the elderly woman sharing her memories of Anne Frank with a group of children to the young woman bringing groceries to the attic and speaking directly to Anne and back.
She and a second student, Riley Shanahan, moved on to the county competition, competing against four other performers Feb. 8 at Park Vista High School in suburban Lake Worth.
She won first place in the performance category of junior high school students and moved on to the statewide contest.
Her father, Patrick Guarino, loaded the 6-foot set into a rented van and drove it to Tallahassee Community College, where on May 7, competing against about 35 performers, Daniela took another first-place award and moved on to the finals June 9-13. This time, her father had the set shipped to the University of Maryland.
In the first round of the finals, she faced about 85 competitors performing in 10 rooms. One winner was chosen from each room. She was one of those 10 finalists from which the first-, second- and third-place winners would emerge the next day.
She almost made it.
Of the 10 performers, the panel of three judges ranked her No. 5.
“Effective characteriz-ation,” one judge wrote. “You really embodied her relentlessly positive spirit.”
“Highly effective acting with impressively consistent use of an accent,” said another. “Well done!”
She came home to Manalapan with two medals, one from state and one from the nationals, and a lot to think about.
Why do some people cooperate with such evil?
“It’s a mob mentality and groupthink,” she decided. “In their propaganda, they chant and you get into a mindset that if everybody else is doing it, it must be right.”
And why do some, like Miep Gies, risk their lives to do good?
“In the beginning, Gies was just helping her friends,” she said, “doing the Christian thing for her friends. And from there she went on to help other Jewish families.”
And the hardest question of all: Could you be a Miep Gies?
“Normally, I’m scared of any kind of thing,” she said, “but I think I would have helped. Knowing what I know now.”
The contest rules required that contestants cite 12 sources they had consulted. After her 10 months of research, Daniela had gathered 75 sources. The list filled a 25-page supplement, but of them all, she said, one quote by Miep Gies seemed to sum up her entire performance.
“During the hiding time,” Gies once recalled, “I lived for the day that the war would end, when I would be able to go into the hiding place, throw open the doors, and say to my friends, ‘Now go home!’ And Anne, with her usual curiosity, will get up and rush toward me saying, ‘Hello, Miep. What is the news?’ But this was not to be.”
Even today, many people mistakenly assume that Anne Frank died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. In fact, both she and her sister, Margot, were sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany, where they succumbed to a typhus epidemic brought on by poor sanitation and the lack of adequate food and water, weeks before the camp was liberated. Anne Frank was 15.
Miep Gies died on Jan. 11, 2010, a month before her 101st birthday. On June 18, Daniela Guarino turned 14.
To watch a video of Daniela’s performance, or go to YouTube and search for Daniela Guarino NHD Performance National Finals 2019. For more information about National History Day, visit www.nhd.org.