For millions of people, “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” has provided insights into the suffering of some of the victims of the Nazis’ vicious campaign of state-supported terror against Jews. But the book would never have seen the light of day if not for the courage and resourcefulness of Miep Gies, who preferred to call herself “just an ordinary housewife and secretary.” Mrs. Gies died Jan. 11 in the Netherlands, one month short of her 101st birthday. Her example of doing the right thing in the face of daily danger should live on.
Miep in 1933 became secretary to Otto Frank, a successful businessman who owned a spice company in Amsterdam. She and her husband, Jan, became close friends with the Frank family. When it became obvious in 1942 that the Nazis were rounding up Dutch Jews to send them to concentration camps, Otto asked Miep and Jan to hide his family and two other Jews and sustain them in an unused room behind a moveable bookcase in Mr. Frank’s business. At the risk of their lives, along with their colleagues Victor Kugler, Johannes Kleimann, and Bep Voskuijl, the Gieses readily agreed. Miep Gies manipulated ration cards and rode her bicycle to different grocery stores to avoid suspicion, and also provided books and emotional support.
The Franks went into hiding in July 1942 and were arrested in August 1944 after a tip from an informant. Before the Gestapo cleaned out the hideout Miep noticed Anne’s diary and placed it, unread, in her desk drawer, hoping to return it to Anne. Anne died of typhoid in the Belsen prison camp, but her father survived. Miep gave him the diary, and, recognizing his daughter’s literary talent and the importance of the subject, Otto Frank arranged to have it published.
Although she was later awarded Germany’s Order of Merit, the Yad Vashem medal and was knighted by Queen Beatrix of Holland, Miep Gies always downplayed her own heroism. In her autobiography she put it this way:
“I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did or more — much more during those dark and terrible times years ago, but always like yesterday in the hearts of those of us who bear witness. Never a day goes by that I do not think of what happened then.”
We should not forget, either.