On January 11, 2010, Miep Gies, the last survivor of a small group of people who helped hide a Jewish girl, Anne Frank, and her family from the Nazis during World War II, dies at age 100 in the Netherlands. After the Franks were discovered in 1944 and sent to concentration camps, Gies rescued the notebooks that Anne Frank left behind describing her two years in hiding. These writings were later published as “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl,” which became one of the most widely read accounts of the Holocaust.
Miep Gies was born into a working-class, Catholic family in Vienna, Austria, on February 15, 1909. At age 11, with food shortages in her native land following World War I, she was sent to the Netherlands to live with a foster family who nicknamed her Miep (her birth name was Hermine Santrouschitz). In 1933, she went to work as a secretary for Otto Frank, who ran a small Amsterdam company that produced a substance used to make jam. By the following year, Frank’s wife and two daughters, Margot and Anne, had left their native Germany to join him in the Dutch capital.
In May 1940, the Germans, who had entered World War II in September of the previous year, invaded the Netherlands and quickly made life increasingly restrictive and dangerous for the country’s Jewish population. In early July 1942, the Frank family went into hiding in an attic apartment behind Otto Frank’s business. They were eventually joined by Otto Frank’s business associate and his wife and son, as well as Miep Gies’ dentist, all of whom were Jewish. Gies, along with her husband Jan, a Dutch social worker, and several of Otto Frank’s other employees risked their own lives to smuggle food, supplies and news of the outside world into the secret apartment (which came to be known as the Secret Annex).
On August 4, 1944, after 25 months in hiding, the eight people in the Secret Annex were discovered by the Gestapo, the German secret state police, who had learned about the hiding place from an anonymous tipster who has never been definitively identified. Gies was working in the building at the time of the raid and avoided arrest because the officer was from her native Vienna and felt sympathy for her. She later went to police headquarters and tried, unsuccessfully, to pay a bribe to free the group.
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The occupants of the Secret Annex were sent to concentration camps; only Otto Frank survived. After he was liberated from Auschwitz by Soviet troops in January 1945, he returned to Amsterdam, where Miep Gies gave him a collection of notebooks and several hundred loose papers containing observations the teenage Anne Frank had penned during her time in hiding. Gies recovered the materials from the Secret Annex shortly after the Franks’ arrest and hid them in her office desk. She avoided reading the papers during the war out of respect for Anne’s privacy.
Otto Frank, who lived with the Gies family after the war, compiled his daughter’s writings into a manuscript that was first published in the Netherlands in 1947 under the title “Het Achterhuis” (“Rear Annex”). Later published as “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl,” the book went on to sell tens of millions of copies worldwide.
In 1987, Gies published a memoir, “Anne Frank Remembered,” in which she wrote: “I am not a hero. I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did and more–much more–during those dark and terrible times years ago, but always like yesterday in the heart of those of us who bear witness. Never a day goes by that I do not think of what happened then.”
Gies died in 2010, at the age of 100.