Miep Gies – Hid Anne Frank and Several Others from the Nazis During WWII
I have written several blogs about ordinary persons who accomplished extraordinary feats of bravery and defiance during WWII. For the most part, their brave and dangerous deeds were performed anonymously or have been lost to history. A few persons’ deeds, such as Oskar Schindler, whose deeds were portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie Schindler’s List (1993), and Jan and Antonina Zabinski (The Zookeeper’s Wife – 2017) have come to light thanks to Hollywood. Unfortunately, they are few and far between.
Recently, I had the good fortune of watching an eight-part tv movie about Miep Gies. Most of you have never heard of her. I had not until I saw the aforementioned movie. Ms. Gies’ story is quite amazing. She and her husband, Jan, were Dutch patriots who hid Anne Frank and several others from the Nazis for two years during WWII. Her amazing story is portrayed in the tv movie A Small Light, which can be viewed on the National Geographic tv channel. Most of us are familiar with the story of Anne Frank, thanks to her diary, but this movie presents the story from a different perspective – that of Ms. Gies.
What motivated her to do what she did? In her own words, “We did our human duty: helping people in need.” I submit that that simple statement does not do justice to the totality of what she did, but you can judge for yourself.
Hermine Santrouschitz was born on February 15, 1909 in Vienna. Her family was Catholic and very poor. At that time, Austria was in the throes of a post-WWI depression. Conditions were very dire. Food and other necessities were scare, and Hermine’s family was unable to care for her properly. She became sickly and malnourished. Fortunately, other countries, such as The Netherlands, had established relief programs to aide children such as Hermine. Her parents made the desperate decision to send her to live with a Dutch family in the hopes that she would regain her health. Consequently, 11-year-old Hermine was put on a train by herself to make the trip. Luckily, she ended up with a family that loved her and cared for her. Eventually, she, her biological parents and her adopted parents all agreed that she would remain in Amsterdam. She became known as Miep. In July 1941 she married Jan Gies, a social worker.
At the age of 18 Miep commenced working as a typist but was soon laid off. Jobs were scarce, but pursuant to a recommendation of a neighbor she got an interview with a Jewish businessman named Otto Frank. Frank hired her. Initially, her job was to make jam for sale, but eventually she was promoted to customer service and the position of secretary.
Despite the fact that The Netherlands was neutral the Nazis invaded and in May 1940 succeeded in occupying the country. We all know what happened shortly thereafter – the despicable treatment of Jews and other atrocities typical of every country that the Nazis occupied.
Otto decided to go into hiding along with his family. He had constructed an elaborate hiding place on the premises called The Secret Annex. At first, it contained just the Franks, but over time the Franks took in others making a total of eight persons. When Otto asked Miep if she would help hide them she agreed instantly. Over the next few years she organized the elaborate ruse performing such tasks as obtaining ration cards, food and other necessities, all while running the business. She and Jan also managed to help other children relocate to safe homes in the countryside.
This was all accomplished under the noses of the Nazis. The daily stress was intense. Complete secrecy was paramount. Absolutely no one could be told as there were collaborators everywhere. Miep later stated “to the outside world, we had to look as relaxed as possible, or people might have grown suspicious.”
At one point, Miep ascertained that Anne Frank was writing a diary. She thought it was dangerous to do so as it might be discovered at some point and implicate others. But, Anne was a defiant, headstrong teenager, and she was determined to continue it. Miep said she told her “Yes, I’m writing about you too.”
Eventually, the Nazis received an anonymous tip regarding the hideout. On August 4, 1944 a group raided the place. They arrested everyone, except for Miep, including two employees. The arresting officer may have spared her because they were both natives of Vienna. Jan and Miep were both devastated. They had the presence of mind to inspect the Annex immediately to see what could be retrieved. Luckily, for the benefit of history, they found Anne’s diary. Miep almost destroyed it because, as I said, it contained a lot of incriminating information, but in the end she kept it in case Otto were to return someday.
Miep felt the raid was her fault, that she had slipped up somehow. She was so determined to try to save them that she bravely (or foolishly) went to Gestapo Headquarters to plead with the the officer who had arrested them. She was unsuccessful, but at least she was able to leave. There was nothing further to be done.
On May 5, 1945 the Allies recaptured The Netherlands. Soon after, Jewish former prisoners who had survived began returning. Otto returned, but the rest of his family did not. The Gies insisted that Otto stay with them, which he did. Miep gave Otto Anne’s diary telling him “this is your daughter’s legacy.”
The diary published was in 1947. It is an amazing firsthand account. Anne lavishes much praise on Miep. One passage reads “[she] is just like a pack mule. [S]he fetches and carries so much. Almost every day she manages to get hold of some vegetables for us and brings everything in shopping bags on her bicycle.” As I said, Miep was able to accomplish this not knowing whom she could trust. Nazis and collaborators were everywhere. People were hurting and very eager to inform for whatever rewards they could get. If you haven’t read it, I recommend you do so.
I strongly recommend “A Small Light.” As stated at the end of the movie it declares that “even an ordinary secretary or a housewife or a teenager can, in their own way, turn on a small light in a dark room.”
Both Jan and Miep lived long and productive lives. Miep, in particular, has been immortalized for her accomplishments. After the war Miep did what she could to keep the story alive. For example, she wrote and published her own book about her experiences titled Anne Frank Remembered.
Jan died on January 26, 1993 at the age of 87. Miep died on February 15, 1909 at the ripe old age of 100. Ironically, after all she had been through the cause of death was rather mundane – a fall at her nursing home. Their bravery in the face of extreme danger will long be remembered.