In the flurry of anniversaries of World War II one stands out, the 50th anniversary of the passing of Anne Frank, who died of typhus and hunger in Bergen Belsen, around March 1, 1945. The anniversary was marked by a special performance in Washington of "The Diary of Anne Frank", and Miep Gies came to attend, a stocky gray-haired Dutch lady of 86. Miep Gies was the one who helped sustain the Franks in their hiding place, and who later, after the Germans found out about the "Secret Annex" and raided it, scooped up Anne's diary and notes, to save them for posterity. This is her story.
And some story it is. Of the many nations occupied by the Nazis, the Dutch earned an unequalled reputation for integrity, decency and heroism, and Miep's tale goes a long way towards explaining how and why it happened. It is much more than a spin-off of the diary of Anne Frank, though it does clarify some facets of Anne's story, too. Rather, it is the personal account of a decent young woman, caught up in a hateful occupation and determined to resist it.
It is story of kindness in the face of cruel oppression. Kindness was what brought Miep to Holland in the first place, the 10-year old daughter of a poor Vienna family, taken in as a foster child by a kind Dutch family during the hunger years that followed WW I. Raised in Holland, she was again treated kindly by Otto Frank, a refugee businessman who successfully rebuilt his business in Holland. But when the Nazis arrived, life turned grim--Jews were deported, Jews and also some Christians were driven into hiding, and food became increasingly scarce, until in the end even the Dutch were starving.
Miep's spirit prevailed through it all. This is a simply written book, clear and unencumbered, and it deserves to be remembered as long as Anne Frank's is. There was only one Anne Frank, yet we should never forget more than twenty thousand brave Dutch men and women, who risked their lives (and sometimes lost them) trying to hide Jews. Miep Gies speaks for them all.
The book, which first appeared in 2004, is "Anne Frank--a photographic story of a life" by Kem Knapp Sawyer, 127 pp., published by DK books, New York. It is indeed "the story of a life," and covers much more than the diary--telling about Anne's family and its life before going into hiding, clarifying what went on in "the secret annex," as well as what happened after the family was arrested. Grown-up readers not familiar with some of that may find this an interesting and touching story, too.
ObituaryMiep Gies died January 11, 2010. Her obituary in "The Washington Post" is posted here.
Author and Curator: Dr. David P. Stern
Mail to Dr.Stern: david("at" symbol)phy6.org .
Last updated 26 June 2009