The horrors of World War II and the tragedies of the Holocaust occurred nearly five decades before any of them were born, but 13 Clinton High School students are reliving those atrocities during the school’s dramatic production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

The play brings to life the harrowing account of a young Jewish girl who hid with her family for two years in the small upper rooms of an office building in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands.

“They’re starting to understand how this time period impacted the world that we live in today,” said drama director and English instructor Wayne Hess. “They’re really starting to understand their characters, and they’re growing each day that we run the show.”

The student actors have been somewhat overwhelmed by the subject matter of the production. Several students have nearly been brought to tears during readings of the play, and some are even experiencing nightmares.

“I was one of the people to tell Mr. Hess that after I had finished reading the script, I had tears in my eyes, it was so moving,” said junior Brianna Tegeler, who plays the role of Edith Frank, Anne’s mother. “That kind of horror that they go through, and you actually see how they had to live. It really touched my heart. It was just so hard for them.”

Simone Renault, who plays the role of Anne Frank, has worked hard to capture the angst and uncertainty felt by her character, and it has caused her more than a few bad dreams.

“It takes an emotional toll on me every single day,” Renault said. “Especially the second act, because that’s when the darkness grows, and the war is full-blown. And even with the prospect of invasion, they know that it’s coming soon. Deep in their hearts, they know they’re not going to make it.”

Renault feels her visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., last spring has helped her to better understand the terror her character endured while the Nazi regime spread across Europe.

“It’s the most profound Holocaust museum in the country,” said Renault, a junior who has been acting since the age of 4. “It’s hard to look at those pictures and not go inside yourself and want to scream or cry.”

Renault was especially affected by the rooms full of shoes, which were collected by the thousands from concentration camps throughout Europe.

“It’s so unbearable to see and so horrible and terrifying,” Renault said. “I can’t even imagine it. No matter how much character study I did, I can only feel a small portion of what they must have felt.”

Drew Matzen, a senior playing the role of a Nazi soldier, has been deeply affected by the task of portraying such an evil character.

“When I found out I was going to play the part of a Nazi, I was like, ‘wow. I don’t know if I can do something like this,’” Matzen said. “It’s just such a horrible part to play.”

Matzen was even more troubled after learning the costume he and his two costars would wear are authentic Nazi uniforms, worn during WWII.

“When (our director) told us that, (we) just had a pale look to our faces. We couldn’t believe that ‘we have to put this on and go out there and perform a show?’” Matzen said. “It’s acting, so you take that role and do your job in the play, but it’s definitely the weirdest and most horrible part I’ve ever played.”

The drama students have all been assigned a research project, presenting different aspects of WWII, and as the historian for the play, Matzen is responsible for studying the background of the play and the time period it occurred in.

“I hope what people will take away from this play is a better understanding of what happened at the time, a better understanding of what the people went through, and how even our lives today are affected by it,” Matzen said. “I think it’s important that people connect to that, and see what they went through to evolve into what’s going on today in our lives.”

The young thespians are quick to point out that the play is not entirely doom and gloom, and its primary message is one of perseverance, and hope.

“The struggle of my character, this little girl, and her feelings toward life, and toward what’s going on, and her hope, it just really makes me have a greater love for life and a greater respect for the people in those times,” Renault said. “There is a lot more than just the negative feelings. There is a lot more hope. The entire (Frank) family was an absolutely phenomenal family, and they just had a lot of hope, and lots and lots of love, so there are a lot of positive things that balance, if not exceed, the negative things.”

“We’re expecting large crowds, and we can’t wait,” Renault added. “It’s going to be a fabulous production. I really think it’s going to be received very well.”

The CHS drama department will perform “The Diary of Anne Frank,” coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the diary’s first publishing, on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., and on Sunday at 2 p.m., in the Vernon Cook Little Theater.

Tickets are $5, and are available at the door.