‘We Have to Remember’: Cast and Crew of New Miniseries ‘A Small Light’ Talk About Holocaust-Era Heroism
by Shiryn Ghermezian
The showrunners and cast members of the new National Geographic and Disney+ eight-part limited series A Small Light talked to The Algemeiner on Tuesday night at the show’s New York premiere about the importance of continuing Holocaust education in new ways for younger audiences and the need to share the little known, true story of the Dutch secretary who tried to keep Anne Frank and her family safe during the Holocaust.
Miep Gies was an opinionated 20-something-year-old and newlywed when her boss, Otto Frank, asked if she could help hide him and his family in Amsterdam from the Nazis after they invaded The Netherlands. Gies agreed without hesitation and for almost two years she risked her life to protect and sneak food to the Franks and other Jews hiding with them in the secret annex behind Otto’s office. She did what she could to make sure the Nazis would not find them until the Franks were ultimately arrested by the Nazis after being tipped off, though it remains unknown by whom.
Gies also kept Anne’s famous diary safe following the Frank family’s arrest and after the Holocaust she returned it to Otto, who published it and shared it with the world.
Much of the cast and crew of A Small Light are Jewish, including executive producer and director Susanna Fogel (The Flight Attendant), Billie Boullet (The Worst Witch) who plays Anne Frank and Ashley Brooke (The Blacklist) who took on the role of her older sister Margot. Brooke’s grandmother was also a survivor of the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps.
British actress Bel Powley, who plays Gies, previously said her maternal great-grandparents were Orthodox Jews from Russia who left their home country to escape the anti-Jewish pogroms and ended up in Ireland. Her grandmother spoke Yiddish with a heavy Irish accent and Powley said recently that her partner’s Dutch grandmother hid Jews under their floorboards during the Holocaust. The actress told The Algemeiner on Tuesday night that her Jewish heritage made her want to do A Small Light and she knows her Jewish ancestors “would be incredibly proud of me that I was going to be a part of this series.”
“My whole career I’ve been searching for roles like this,” the actress added during a Q&A that took place after the show’s screening. “Most of my career, people aren’t making shows about women like Miep so I feel incredibly honored and excited that finally people are making shows about incredible women … I immediately felt connected to this character.”
Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan), who took on the role of Otto Frank, is the grandson of a Jewish Ukrainian immigrant. When asked if his Jewish roots played a factor in him wanting to take on the role of Anne’s father, he told The Algemeiner: “I think it’s always problematic playing people who exists or existed. There’s a lot of expectations, responsibility – particularly someone like Otto Frank. But at the end of the day what you’re really responsible for is the narrative that you’ve been handed.”
“I think it’s really important that we find new ways to tell these stories,” he continued to say. “It’s really important that we teach future generations to recognize the patterns and I think that’s why I was so impressed with what Joan and Tony did in his script. To find a fresh, new take on a story that people think they know.”
Veteran television writers and producers Joan Rater and her husband Tony Phelan (Grey’s Anatomy, Fire Country) created A Small Light after visiting the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam about seven years ago with their family and reading a fact about Giep. A Small Light was filmed partially in Amsterdam and Rater told The Algemeiner that some scenes were shot right outside the Frank family’s former apartment, an experience that she called “surreal and very moving.”
“We took a moment for everybody to just realize the responsibility we had to tell this story and to honor the people whose story we were telling and it was wonderful,” Phelan added about standing at the site with the cast and crew.
The showrunners also agreed that A Small Light is very timely by being released during a current rise in antisemitism around the world, and also shortly after Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Phelan added: “If we can reach a younger generation [with A Small Light]; if we can gain access to those people’s thoughts and feelings and get them to maybe pick up the diary [by Anne Frank] or just reflect on the world they live in, then we’ve done our job … if people connect to these characters and see this series through to the end, just to find out what happens to them, then we feel like we’ve done a service.”
A Small Light premieres May 1 on National Geographic and will begin streaming the next day on Disney+ and Hulu as well as on the Nat Geo TV and ABC apps. New episodes air every Monday.
Watch the trailer for A Small Light below.