For some reason I started watching the movie “Freedom Writers” the other evening. It’s the true story about a bunch of under privileged students caught up in gangs and poverty in Long Beach, California, that were inspired by their teacher to record their thoughts, feelings and experiences in a diary that would later be published and bring them a small measure of fame as well as personal success. If you’re into that sort of thing, it’s quite inspirational but the real inspiration for me was the portrayal of one Miep Gies.
For you see, it’s quite possible that without the existence of Miep Gies the world would probably have never known about The Diary of Anne Frank.
Miep Gies was born as Hermine Santrousclutz in Vienna, Austria on February 15, 1909. At the time Austria was still reeling from the food shortages after World War I and in 1922 she left Vienna for Amsterdam and moved in with a foster family. In 1933 she went to work for a company owned by the father of Anne Frank and soon became close with all of the other Frank family members.
After being threatened with deportation for refusing to join a Nazi women’s group Miep married Jan Gies in 1941 and became an official Dutch citizen.
With a bounty for Jews Miep and other members of her family managed to keep the Franks hidden in a secret room in the offices of Otto Frank from July 1942 to August 4, 1944. They were discovered from a tip by an unknown informant and taken into custody. A few days later she tried to bribe the German authorities but to no avail. The family was whisked away and sent off to the camps.
Before the Nazis had a chance to clear the building, Miep discovered Anne’s diaries and stashed them away in a desk drawer. Once the war ended and it was discovered that Anne Frank had died she turned them over to Otto Frank, the only member of the Frank family to survive the camps. Otto had them published in 1947 and the rest is history. The Diary of Anne Frank has become one of the most widely read and inspirational stories of this generation.
But Miep Gies wasn’t done inspiring people just yet.
The Freedom Writers were so moved by her actions that back in 1994/96 they wrote letters to her and through various fund raising efforts actually got her to come to the States and speak to them. She was 87 at the time. When told by one of the students that she was his hero she had this to say.
Oh, no. No, no, no, young man, no. I am not a hero. No. I did what I had to do, because it was the right thing to do. That is all. Even an ordinary secretary or a housewife or a teenager can, within their own small way; turn on a small light in a dark room. Ja?”
And later, she had this to say.
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.
Even though she died at the ripe old age of 100 on January 11, 2010 it seems Miep Geis will always be with us. Minor planet 99949 has been named Miepgies in her honor. May it shine as brightly as she did.