Source photo: Miep Gies Official Site
Those were the words of Miep Gies, one of the friends that helped the family of Anne Frank hide from the Germans during the Second World War.
On 4th August 1944, Miep Gies was working as usual in her office at the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam. She was probably thinking about the eight people hiding upstairs in the "achterhuis" (the annex in the back). She could not help thinking all the time about them, how they were confined in very close quarters, not able to go outside at all; and above all, she thought about the danger they were all in of being caught by the SS or the Dutch Security Police.
At about 10:30 am, while Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl (another helper and employee at Opekta, the company partly owned by Otto Frank) were sitting at their desks working, "a short man entered and pointed his gun at me and said, 'stay where you are! Don't move!' I froze, of course. he closed the door again and left. I couldn't see or hear what was happening in the annex because I had to stay at my desk. Later I heard the group of hiders in the annex coming down the stairs very slowly. I couldn't go to the window, because I wasn't allowed to move."*
A couple of hours later, Miep and Bep went upstairs to the Franks' bedroom and there they found the papers of Anne's diary lying on the floor. They picked everything up carefully and took it downstairs. There and then they decided that Miep should keep Anne's diary because she was the eldest of the two.
This is how Miep Gies saved one of the most famous diaries in the world, which is today considered a symbol of one of the darkest periods in the history of the human race.
Anne Frank's diary - saved by Miep Gies after the Frank family and the other hiders were discovered in the Annex and taken to concentration camps.
Source photo: Miep Gies Officel Site
On 11th January 2010, Miep Gies died at age 100 after a short illness, barely a month before turning 101. Until very recently, she was healthy and living in the Dutch province of North Holland. In December 2009 after suffering a fall, she was admitted into a nursing home, where she died on the night of 11 to 12 January.
Miep, the helper and the friend
Source Photo: Miep Gies Official SiteOtto Frank -Miep's boss and Anne's father- came one day to Miep and told her about his plan to go into hiding. The persecution of the Jews in Amsterdam had intensified and his daughter Margot (Anne's elder sister) had received a call-up for relocation in a camp. He and his family were going to hide in the annex located in an empty section of the building owned by Otto's firm and they would need help from outside to stay alive.
Was Miep willing to do it?
She said 'yes' without hesitating. These people were helpless, they didn't have anywhere to go. She was their only hope.
Was she scared?
Yes, she was. But she had to do it - the Franks and their friends needed her and she was just doing her duty as a human being. She never saw herself or any of the other helpers as " heroes".
In the interviews Miep gave in her life, she often said that in those days, she used to lay awake at night thinking about the Franks and their friends in the Secret Annex. She frequently asked herself if she would be able to put up with that - being locked up and not able to go outside, afraid all the time of being discovered and sent to a concentration camp to work, or worse, to die.
What was her opinion of Anne?
In Miep's view, Anne was a very friendly and charming girl. She liked to talk and she was constantly asking her and the other helpers for news from the outside world.
Miep and the others had agreed somehow not to tell the hiders all the horrible things that were going on. They thought that the people in the secret annex were already suffering too much and they didn't want to make them even more depressed than they already were. But this strategy would not always work with Anne; she always wanted to know more and she not always "bought" the half-truths their friends told them.
Miep Gies was, of all the helpers, the person that was probably the closest to the Franks and particularly to Anne. She said that talking to Anne was a pleasure to her - she seemed so mature and could discuss serious topics like an adult would. She once walked into Anne's room while she was writing in her private diary, and after receiving a furious look from Anne for intruding on her, Miep felt awkward first, and completely ashamed afterwards. She thought that, even if Anne was a child, she had a right to her privacy.
How did Miep feel after the war?
Some time ago, while reading about Anne and the circle linked to the story of the secret annex, I found an anecdote about Miep that I found quite moving.
While working in the Anne Frank House (which was open to the public as a museum after the war), Miep was asked to help guide a group of German people around the annex. She agreed to do it, despite that she had until then always stayed away from German visitors, for she hated the Germans, she could not help it. Normally, when German visitors came to the house, she simply waited in the office until they were gone, for she was afraid of saying something insulting to them that would embarass Otto Frank.
This time the group was too big and Miep's help was needed. When she saw herself surrounded by the group who recognised her as the Miep in Anne's diary and were staring at her, she thought; "these people are the enemy; these are the Germans!" and she literally "lost it" and started ranting about what the Germans had done and accused them of it all being their fault. The leader of the group came to her and tried to calm her down. She then realised that these people had not fought in the war but that they had been in the Resistance and in concentration camps. As of that moment, she began to see things differently. It was time to let go and move on.
Right after the war, Miep and her husband Jan (who had also been a helper during the hiding of the Franks and friends) used to talk about all they had been through and asked themselves how something like that could have happened, and why.
One day, Miep looked at her husband and told him that they could no longer dwell on past, they needed to start looking ahead, to the future. During the war years they had not been simple onlookers, but they had helped people in need and in so doing, they had risked their own lives. It was all they could do. ...
... as if they had done too little!
What do you think of what Miep Gies and her friends did? Do you think that you could have done something like that if you had been in their place? I know they're tough questions and that living in a completely different world today makes it difficult to answer, but have you ever asked yourselves these questions? I have but as of yet, haven't come up with an honest answer.
*Sources: Miep Gies Official Site and The Anne Frank Stichting Site