1994, Miep Gies

Miep Gies reading the incoming letters, June 2001. Photo by Bettina Flitner.
Miep Gies reading the incoming letters, June 2001. Photo by Bettina Flitner.

Gies sheltered Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II. She came to international attention after the posthumous publication of Frank’s diary.

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 Gies’ 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. She 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 Gies profoundly and she decided to make Holland her permanent home. She 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,” Gies 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.”

Gies 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. Gies tried to rescue the Frank family after they were taken from the attic, attempting to bribe the Austrian SS officer who had arrested them. She even went to Nazi headquarters to negotiate a deal, fully aware that this bold move could cost her her life.

After the Franks were betrayed and arrested, Gies’ work continued. She climbed the attic stairs one more time to retrieve Anne’s writings, finding them scattered on the floor. Gies 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, Gies gave Otto Frank his daughter’s notebooks. Ever since, Miep Gies 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 Gies’ 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 in January, 2010, in the Netherlands.