The petite elderly woman stepped up to the podium in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza here, before the Holocaust Memorial Wall, and faced the audience shivering in the cold morning. Smiling at the people who sat there patiently waiting to see her, Miep Gies said simply, “We are so happy to be here with you, and we thank you so very much for your warm and friendly welcome.”
With such simple words and great humility, the woman who hid Anne Frank received the Courage to Care Award from the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
While children from the Raoul Wallenberg School Children’s Choir sang as part of the ceremonies, Gies approached them, to take in the faces and voices that seemed to remind her of other children, long ago.
Gies (pronounced Khiess) doesn’t think of herself as a hero, she says repeatedly. “People call me hero, but it is my opinion that that is not the right word. What we have done derives from my European character and my love for mankind. We will always remember that there were other people who did the same as we. We would like to accept this award for all the lesser known people who did the same. We will never forget what has happened.”
Gies remained very much a private figure in Amsterdam, but now she has decided to come forward with her memories of Anne and the Frank family, who were her employers and friends, because she, and her husband Jan, who received the award with her, are the last eyewitnesses to the remarkable story.
The book she has written, “Anne Frank Remembered” (with Alison Leslie Gold, published by Simon and Schuster) tells the story from the other side of the famed swinging bookcase that hid what Anne called “the Secret Annexe.” In it, she has recalled with sorrow and love the girl who left the diary that became the world’s treasure.
Jan (who appears as Henk Van Senten in Anne’s diary, to protect his identity, and as Henk Gies in his wife’s memoirs) worked in the underground. “I was a social worker in the city of Amsterdam,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We were close friends before they went into hiding. There was a group of eight to ten people in my office who were doing the same work,” he said, illegal social work in a time of terror. “As a social worker,” Jan explained, “you always feel the same,” no matter what the times are. “You have to help people.”
Jan, now 81, a tall, strong man who appears both tough and tender, said that to explain his memories of the Frank family “would take ten hours.” He is very protective of his beloved Miep, who looks much younger than her 78 years. Miep, asked to remember the Franks, said simply, “They were a nice family, good people and close friends.”
SHE DID THE UNTHINKABLE
After the Franks and the others who hid with them — the Van Daan family and Mr. Dusel — were taken away to Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz, Miep did the unthinkable. She walked right into the Gestapo headquarters in Amsterdam, to see the Viennese Nazi who had taken them away. He had not arrested her only because she, like him, was from Vienna. With tremendous “chutzpah,” she offered to buy back the people from the man who had asked her, “Aren’t you ashamed to help Jewish garbage?”
Miep Gies went there not once but twice, asking, “How much money do you want to free the people you arrested the other day?” She refused to believe the answer ‘no,’ going to high-ranking Nazis, asking, “Who is in charge here?” Like Anne, Miep believed in the “goodness of mankind.”
It was Miep who found the orange-checkered diary after the denizens of the “Secret Annexe” were taken away. She put it aside, along with other possessions of the young girl, saying, “I’ll keep everything safely for Anne until she comes back.”
Only Otto Frank returned, and he lived with the Gieses for seven years. Yet even when Frank published Anne’s diary, Miep could not bring herself to read the diary, her sadness was so great.
After many years, when Miep finally allowed herself to read Anne’s diary, she felt, she said, “peaceful. Even though we had lost her, I had the feeling she was with me.”
‘WHY WEREN’T THERE OTHERS?’
As the Gieses posed for photographs and last-minute interviews before the seven-bronze wall plaques titled “Zachor — Remember,” Abraham Foxman, ADL associate national director and a child survivor who was hidden by a Righteous Gentile in Poland, embraced the Gieses warmly and with obvious personal attachment to the rescuers. “Let me hug you,” said Foxman, remembering the Christian woman who had hidden him at personal risk to herself. As Foxman presented the award to the Gieses, he asked, “We have the obligation to ask, ‘Why weren’t there others? Why weren’t there more Gieses?'”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.