WWII Protector of the Frank Family, Miep Gies, Dies – with Anne Frank Facts



Who is Miep Gies?

Miep Gies, who helped hide the Frank family during WWII and and who found Anne Frank’s diary died today.  She was 100 years old. Miep was born in Vienna, Austria to Christian parents on Feb 15th, 1909.  Her parents gave her the name Hermine Santrouschitz.  In 1920 she was sent to Leiden, the Netherlands due to food shortages in Austria. The foster family she lived with called her Miep and the name stuck. Two years later she moved with her foster family to Amsterdam.  

Meeting the Frank Family

Miep met Otto Frank in 1933 when she went to work for  his spice company as a secretary.  Miep and her husband, Jan Gies, became very good friends with the Frank family: Otto and his wife Edith and their two daughters, Margot and Anne. The Franks had recently relocated from Germany to Amsterdam and  Miep’s knowledge of both Dutch and German was very helpful to the Franks as they adapted to life in the Netherlands. 

German Occupation

In May 1940 the German occupation of the Netherlands began.  Soon the Nazis had shut down Jewish newspapers, fired Jewish civil servants, and barred Jewish children from public schools. Otto Frank, having lived in Germany knew things would only get worse. In the spring of 1942 he told Miep of his plan to go into hiding with his family and asked her if she would help.  She, of course, said yes. 

The Secret Annex

Miep was the the last survivor of a group of co-workers that included Jan Gies,  Victor Kugler, Johannes Kleinman, and Bep Voskuijl, who hid the Frank family and four other Jews, (Hermann and Auguste van Pels, their son Peter, and Fritz Pfeffer and also Peter’s cat),  from July 6th, 1942 – August 4th 1944 in a secret annex in the office building owned by Otto Frank .  These amazing helpers risked their lives by providing those hidden in the annex with food, supplies and news.

Arrested

After hiding for over two years, all those living in the annex were arrested and sent to concentration camps by the Gestapo, who were tipped off by a secret informant.   Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleiman were also arrested.  Miep tried to bribe the Nazi officer with money to release her friends, but was unsuccessful.  To this day the informant’s identity remains a mystery. 

Miep said that she was lucky not to be arrested herself.  She said that when the supervising officer came to interrogate her she found out that he was from her hometown of Vienna.  In an interview with students published in Scholastic magazine website in 1997 she stated that she, "Jumped up and said, as cheerfully as I could, ‘You are from Vienna? I am from Vienna, too’ Although he got very angry initially, it made him obviously decide not to arrest me. Apart from the shock, the fear and my heart-breaking concerns regarding the fate of my friends, nothing happened to me.”

Discovery of the Diary

After the Gestapo left  Miep and Bep Voskuijl sorted through the mess and found the diary Anne had been writing in.  Miep hid it, without reading it,  with the hope that she could return it to Anne after the was was over.  When Miep learned that the only member of the Frank family to survive the camps was Otto, she gave the diary to him and he published it in 1947.  Miep told Otto that if she had read it, she would have had to destroy it as it contained all the names of the people who helped hide those in the secret annex as well as the names of their black market suppliers.

Miep devoted the rest of her life to keeping the memory of Anne Frank alive, traveling around the world giving speeches at schools and personally responding to letters from children.  Yet, every August 4th she remembered the sad day her friends were taken away by staying indoors with the curtains drawn.

To this day “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl”  remains one of the most widely read books in schools around the world. When I was teaching school we read it as a class and the students were very moved by it. It’s also been made into a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, an opera and many movies.   Just the other day I watched the version with Melissa Gilbert on cable. 

Miep Gies is Honored

Miep received many accolades and awards, including being knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands for her bravery in helping to hide those in the annex.  Miep humbly wrote in her autobiography  “Anne Frank Remembered” (Simon & Schuster, 1988),  " I am not a hero.  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. Never a day goes by that I do not think of what happened then. "

Anne Frank Remembered & Peter Pfeffer

While making the documentary film "Anne Frank Remembered" in 1994, Miep was introduced to Peter Pfeffer, the son of Fritz Pfeffer.  In 1938 Fritz sent Peter to live in London with his uncle, fearing that it was unsafe for his son to stay in Germany.  When the war ended Peter had lost most of his close family, including his father and mother, who had died in a concentration camp.

Peter Pfeffer eventually moved to California and became a successful business owner. When he met Miep he expressed his thanks to her for attempting to save his father’s life and Miep asked him if there was anything he wanted to know about his father, expressing that he was a good man and fine dentist.  It was a bittersweet meeting, in more than one way, as Peter died two months later of cancer.  I remember showing this documentary to my students and us all being very moved by that fact which is stated in the documentary.  It’s a very moving film, directed by Jon Blair and beautifully narrated by Kenneth Branagh with diary readings by Glen Close.

Freedom Writers

In the movie "Freedom Writers" (2007) directed by Richard LaGravanese,  Miep was portrayed by the actress Pat Carroll.  Actress Hilary Swank plays a teacher who assigns “Diary of a Young Girl” to a group of inner-city students and asks them to write letters to Miep, and whose visit to the classroom is the emotional highlight of the film. The incident is based on an actual visit Miep made to a high school in Long Beach, California.

Goodbye, Thank You and Godspeed Miep

Miep is survived by her son, Paul. Her husband,  Jan Gies, died in 1993 at age 87. Otto Frank lived with Miep and Jan Gies for seven years after the war. He died in 1980. Miep Gies died Monday, January 11th, 2010 in the Dutch province of Noord-Holland after a short illness.

Thank you Miep for all you did to make a difference, thank you to all who helped you and risked so much.  While you stated that what you did was not extraordinary, the world knows different.  In a very frightening time, you and your colleagues and husband stood up to help those in need, putting yourselves in jepoardy.  You stood up for what you believed to be right, not caving into fear.  That is integrity.  You were an example of courage and strength.  Thank you and Godspeed dear Miep.  

January 11 , 2010 | | In: Current Events

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