Written by Pat McCune, Penny Schreiber and Joan Lowenstein
While millions of people all over the world know about Anne Frank, far fewer are aware of Miep Gies, the woman who sustained Frank and her family in hiding during World War II. The humanitarian actions of Gies more than fifty years ago in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam have had a special and enduring impact. Were it not for Miep Gies, the world would never have met Anne Frank.
Moral courage and modesty are at the heart of Miep’s character. For more than two years, she risked her own life daily to illegally protect and care for the Franks and four of their friends hiding from the Nazis in an attic. Miep insists that she is not a hero. “I myself am just an ordinary woman. I simply had no choice,” she told a standing-room-only audience during the fifth Wallenberg Lecture, in Rackham Auditorium, on October 11, 1994. Gies knew of many other Dutch people who sheltered or helped Jews during the war. Her name has become known, she said, only “because I had an Anne.” Gies assigned the title of hero to the eight souls who hid in the attic. “They were the brave people,” she said.
Gies was born in 1909 in Vienna. At the age of eleven, recovering from tuberculosis and suffering from poor nutrition, she was sent to live with a family in Amsterdam. Her Dutch foster parents already had five children. Despite their modest income they welcomed her into their family, sharing with her everything they had. The love and compassion she received from her new family impressed Miep profoundly and she decided to make Holland her permanent home. Miep was influenced by the values of her foster family. Later, when her employer, Otto Frank, asked her if she was prepared to take responsibility for his family in hiding, she answered “yes” without hesitation. “It is our human duty to help those who are in trouble,” Miep said in Ann Arbor. “I could foresee many, many sleepless nights and a miserable life if I had refused to help the Franks. Yes, I have wept countless times when I thought of my dear friends. But still, I am happy that these are not tears of remorse for refusing to assist those in trouble.”
Miep provided the Franks with food, clothing, and books during their years in hiding — to the best of her ability she addressed all of their daily material needs. She was also one of the few links with the outside world for the Franks and their friends, and she was their main source of hope and cheer. She knowingly faced great personal risk, acting out of integrity and in consonance with her own internal values. Miep tried to rescue the Frank family after they were taken from the attic, attempting to bribe the Austrian SS officer who had arrested them. Miep even went to Nazi headquarters to negotiate a deal, fully aware that this bold move could cost her life.
After the Franks were betrayed and arrested, Miep’s task continued. She climbed the attic stairs one more time to retrieve Anne’s writings, finding them scattered on the floor. Miep quickly gathered up the notebooks and kept them for Anne’s expected return after the war. When she learned of Anne’s death in Bergen-Belsen, Miep gave Otto Frank his daughter’s notebooks. Ever since, Miep has mourned the cruel fate of her friends in the attic. “Every year on the fourth of August, I close the curtains of my home and do not answer the doorbell or the telephone,” she said. “It is the day that my Jewish friends were taken away to the death camps. I have never overcome that shock.”
Miep’s message in her Wallenberg Lecture was one of hope: “I feel strongly that we should not wait for our political leaders to make this world a better place.” Miep Gies has been honored around the world for her moral courage. In Israel the Yad Vashem Memorial pays tribute to her as a Righteous Gentile.
Miep Gies died at age 100 in the Netherlands on January 11, 2010.
Source: The Wallenberg Endowment/University of Michigan, JTA