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Anne Frank’s last protector dies at 100

January 12, 2010

Miep Gies

Helping to hide Anne Frank and her family in a Amsterdam warehouse is only one of the heroic aspects of the life of Miep Gies, who died yesterday at age 100.

Gies also gathered up and saved Anne’s papers, including the famous diary, after the Nazis discovered the Frank’s hiding place and took them and the other concealed Jews to concentration camps — where all of them died, except for Anne’s father, Otto Frank.

In my mind, though, one of the most impressive aspects of Gies’ life is her firm, lifelong insistence that she did nothing special.

“I don’t want to be considered a hero. Imagine young people would grow up with the feeling that you have to be a hero to do your human duty,” Gies said in a 1997 talk to schoolchildren.

“I am afraid nobody would ever help other people, because who is a hero? I was not. I was just an ordinary housewife and secretary.”

Born in Austria, Gies was sent to Holland at age 11 to escape food shortages in the aftermath of World War I. She was given the nickname “Miep” by her Dutch host family.

Gies worked as a secretary for Otto Frank, and with her husband Jan Gies, became close friends with the Frank family. She refused pressure to join Nazi organizations, despite threats of deportation back to Austria. After Frank failed to obtain papers to allow his family to move to the United States or Cuba, he asked Gies to help hide them in an annex above the company’s warehouse.

“I answered: ‘Yes, of course.’ It seemed perfectly natural to me. I could help these people,” she once said. “They were powerless, they didn’t know where to turn.”

Gies was the last surviving member of the group of Dutch friends who helped construct the hiding place and bring food, books and other necessities to the Franks. In addition to Jan, the others are Victor Kugler, Johannes Kleiman and Bep Voskuijl.

Miep Gies as a young woman

After the Franks were discovered by the Nazis — acting on a tip by an informant who has never been identified — Gies went to the annex and rescued Anne’s papers. Anne famously died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen at the age of 15. Gies gave the diary to Otto Frank after the war, and helped him prepare it for publication.

The Diary of Anne Frank was published in 1947, becoming the first popular account of the Holocaust. Long recognized as a work of literary genius, the diary continues to generate great interest in readers and scholars alike. Novelist and literary critic Francine Prose published a popular reconsideration of it last year entitled Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife.

Gies worked throughout her life to publicize The Diary of Anne Frank and to counter Holocaust deniers. She received the Raoul Wallenberg Award for bravery in 1990 and the Order of Merit from Germany in 1994. In Israel, she was named a member of the Righteous Among Nations at the Yad Vashem memorial, which pays tribute to non-Jews who helped Jews during the Holocaust.

“I am not a hero,” Gies wrote in her 1988 autobiography, Anne Frank Remembered. “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.”

In her Wallenberg Lecture, Gies said, ““I feel strongly that we should not wait for our political leaders to make this world a better place.”

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Candice Simmons permalink
    January 12, 2010 2:31 pm

    God bless Miep Gies and all those who do what they can to help. Yes, she is a hero.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 13, 2010 11:47 am

      Whether she thought so or not — indeed, to me one of her most heroic attributes is her firm modesty.

  2. DeeBishoff permalink
    January 12, 2010 7:50 pm

    Chauncey,
    What a wonderful tribute to such a wonderful woman. And indeed, she is a hero.

  3. January 12, 2010 9:56 pm

    As long as there are people like Miep Gies coming to light in this world, I’ll fight the tendencies I have to despair about our suicidal species. Thanks for the tribute to her, Chauncey.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 13, 2010 11:50 am

      I believe few of us, if any, know what courage we are capable of until we are put to the extreme test. And often, the most courageous were not noteworthy for their virtue before the defining crisis. Miep was a young secretary, in now way outstanding. Oskar Schindler was even less promising, a womanizing wheeler-dealer, willing to cooperate with the Nazis to get an advantage in business. But both risked everything to save Jews. Amazing.

  4. January 13, 2010 9:31 am

    See, about every 100 years some one like her comes along. Very special. It is up to us to make sure the circumstances that happened, then, never happen again. We owe. Unfortunately it is in smaller doses. We tend to say, well this is different. This is for a just cause. Our cause. We are right.
    We are doing this to the children today to save the children of tomorrow.

    What, the WHAT, the What the. Hey.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    (I had a lot of these left over. I figured I would use them up)
    ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Never mind

  5. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    January 13, 2010 11:52 am

    Oh, I think people like Miep come along everyday, but they seldom get credit or publicity for their acts of risk and self-sacrifice. They seldom receive mention in great books like The Diary of Anne Frank or Schindler’s List.

  6. January 14, 2010 7:56 am

    You know you are right in that way. There were a million Anne Franks. Still are. Just no body knows. A million people helped. I still do remember how her story completely took me over when I was young. I can actually remember thinking what would I do if they came to my house. They still did a great job. Great stories. Many are going on today in countries they kill to control. Toronto Pictures has a great film out that should be seen or read. Called Punctured Hope.

  7. Savannah Joy permalink
    February 28, 2011 9:18 pm

    God bless Miep Gies and people like her. God bless her. I’m so glad she got to live her life peacefully and not taking the attention that others sometimes take, and being the kindhearted person she is. God bless Miep Gies and Anne Frank. God bless.

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