Tuesday, 12 January 2010

"I'm not a heroine: I just did what I considered was my duty"

Miep Gies in 2001, she used to receive thousands of letters from all over the world.

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.

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

Miep, circa 1936, working at the office in Opekta, the company partly owned by Anne's father.
Otto 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


Just a Plane Ride Away said...

My daughter and I visited the Anne Frank museum last year and I asked myself these same questions. Going to that house was just surreal--I read Anne Frank's diary when I was nine and I don't think I ever thought I'd make to the place where she and her family hid.

Rest in peace, Miep Gies.

Aledys Ver said...

I haven't been to the museum, yet. I'll gather enough courage one of these days.
I also read Anna Frank's diary as a kid, in Spanish and actually, when I came to Holland and started studying Dutch, I decided the first book I'd read in Dutch would be "Het Achterhuis", in the original version this time.
Indeed, rest in peace, Miep Gies.
Thanks for your comment.

Ana said...

Impresionante. Yo estuve en la casa de Anne Frank y vi el diario y todo, pero no sabía que ella trabajó en el museo ni menos que guiara a la gente. El relato de su reacción ante los alemanes visitantes me parece una excelente lección sobre los prejuicios. Una vida muy interesante, y si bien hay que estar en ese lugar, ciertamente no me hubiera animado a hacer lo que ella hizo, al menos en el modo como lo hizo...

Presépio no Canal said...

Morreu uma grande senhora. Paz a sua alma.
Bonita Homenagem, Aledys!

Aledys Ver said...

A mí también me impactó el relato de lo sucedido con el contingente alemán y que además, Kleiman y ella se encerraran en la oficina siempre que hubiera visitantes alemanes para evitar confrontaciones. Debe haber sido muy fuerte estar cara a cara con "el enemigo". Duro, duro...

Es verdad, fue una gran señora!
Muchas gracias por el comentario.

Sonya said...

I went to Anne Frank museum with my husband. It's so different when you see that house for youself. As I went up the very narrow stairs that were very loud as you walked up..I cant even begin to imagine the fear they felt when they heard the footsteps. You should go and see when you can. The rooms were so small. It's a real eye opening experience.

Rest in peace Miep

Aledys Ver said...

Yes, I'll definitely go one of these days. I've been in front of the house many times, taken pictures and all - but I never actually found myself prepared enough to go in.
I read that after the war, the annex had been cleared of all the furniture and things, and Miep said that visitors often commented that they had expected the rooms to be smaller. After getting this kind of comments, she suggested putting everything back again, so that people could get a real impression of the confined conditions under which the 8 hiders had to live all those months.

Thanks a lot for leaving your comments!

Paco Piniella said...

La casa de Ana Frank fue para mi, cuando estuve en Amsterdam, uno de los lugares que más me impresionó.

Droomvla said...

I am saddened by her passing away. I saw an interview of her last year on Nederland 1. Such a courageous and remarkable woman, and a very loyal employee and friend.

Thanks for posting this! :D

Aledys Ver said...

Sí, imagino que debe dejar una impresión que no te olvidás en tu vida. Algo que me llegó de lo que escuché decir a Miep Gies en su discurso cuando fue condecorada por la reina, es "esto no puede repetirse jamás" - y ya sabemos que, si bien no se ha repetido a esta escala, el genocidio ha continuado sucediendo en muchos lugares del mundo - mi país entre ellos.
Gracias por tu comentario.

I saw that interview, too. As I was telling Paco in the comment above, one of the things I heard Miep say that touched me the most, was "this must not happen again!" - sadly, it has - in my country 30.000 people "disappeared" during the 1970s and 1980s.
Thanks for stopping by.

Susan said...

My dear ... Aledys,
How wonderful to hear from you and see that you are having such a wonderful time in The Netherlands! I thought of you yesterday when I heard on the news about the passing of Miep Gies and per chance, I found your blog when I was searching for more information about this great lady. What are the odds, eh?
Un abrazo fuerte.
Your very old teacher and friend.

~Lopa said...

Such a wonderful and informative article Aledys.
Very nicely put.
I haven't been to that museum yet, but i will soon plan to visit it.

It is such a pity, i almost shiver when i think about those people, what happened with them, how they lived, what they passed through and how terrible would it be to go through it, to see others going through it, and at times to see others misfortune turning to your extended luck !

I will repeat same words again, It should never happen again !

Rebecca said...

What a nice homage, Aledys. When I went to Holland in the 90s, the museum was closed for renovations. Such an amazing story that we as a global community must never forget.

A g g i e Lap said...

Beautiful tribute to Miep Gies! This lady did good in her life and left Earth at a right age. She will be remembered. I'm glad to have read tributes to her (twice) today, for I did not know who she was before that. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Remarkable story, isn't it? Great write-up! I can across it just seconds after posting on my blog about Miep. The world has certainly lost a remarkable woman.

Aledys Ver said...

Oohhh I don't believe it! It's a Google miracle!
Beso and thanks a lot!!

Yes, I think that we cannot even begin to imagine what they must have gone through. It's very sad, indeed.
Thanks for your comments!

I agree, I think we need to be reminded from time to time of what happened - we can't allow this to happen again, as Miep herself said.
Thanks for your visit!

Yes, I was thinking about that too, she must have been needed here to continue her good work, that's why she got to live to such a beautiful long age!
Thanks to you, my friend!

Yes, I saw your article last night. I think we've all been touched by her story.
Thanks for your comment on this!!

buday said...

I read The Diary of Anne Frank a long time ago but I only became aware of Miep Gies fairly recently (and via a movie called Freedom Fighters!). Her life was held up to young people as proof that one person can do so much to change the world.

She was almost dismissive about her role in bringing the diary to light and the extraordinary courage she exhibited. She never thought of herself as one but she was very much a hero.

This is a wonderfully-written tribute, Aledys. Hats off and a tango twirl to you. :)

BLOGitse said...

What a pleasant surprise your comment on my blog was! Thank you and now I'm here.
Thanks for this post.

You're from Argentina. (and me from Finland living in Egypt :)
What do I know about Argentina: good wine, meat and tango.
What else do you need in your life - nothing! :)
I'll be back...

Have a great weekend!



Me ha impresionado el relato, conocía la historia superficial.
En febrero voy a Holanda tres días, me han seleccionado y premiado un itinerario que presenté y tengo claro que su casa no se me escapará, ya te aviso cuando vaya a ir por si podemos tomar una cervecita.


A Salto De Mata

Aledys Ver said...

Her life is indeed an example, of how a single person can make a difference. Her sacrifice and her life served a purpose in this life.
Thanks a lot for stopping by!

Thanks for visiting my blog! I found your blog about your life in Egypt very interesting!

Pues piénsatelo bien antes de ir al museo, porque te llevará mucho tiempo, entre hacer la cola para comprar la entrada y luego adentro, y siempre está colmado de gente. Para una visita de 3 días, tal vez quieras ver otras cosas. Es sólo una idea, claro!
Y por cierto, cuando estés aquí, avisa, así me escapo para econtrarme contigo!

A Touch of Dutch said...

Great post! I am a bit behind on catching up with blogs & finally have a few moments today. Glad I got to stop to read this one too because you sure have touched on this so well :-) I still haven't been inside to see it for myself, but I know I ought to. Thank you for sharing this!

Orangesplaash said...

What an interesting and informative post..a lovely tribute to a lovely lady. I got to know so much more about Miep from your blog, looking forward to the museum sometimes in the near future!!

Aledys Ver said...

Don't worry if you're too busy - this is supposed to be fun! :)

Thanks! I also still have that visit pending - but I need some courage first!