January 12, 2010

Anne Frank diary guardian Miep Gies dies

Miep Gies (left) with Otto Frank (centre) in October 1945
Miep Gies, the last surviving member of the group who helped protect Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis, has died in the Netherlands aged 100

She and other employees of Anne Frank's father Otto supplied food to the family as they hid in a secret annex above the business premises in Amsterdam. Anne's diary of their life in hiding, which ended in betrayal, is one of the most famous records of the Holocaust. It was rescued by Mrs Gies, who kept it safe until after the war.

Miep Gies died in a nursing home after suffering a fall just before Christmas.

Speaking last year as she celebrated her 100th birthday, Mrs Gies played down her role, saying others had done far more to protect Jews in the Netherlands. She and her fellow employees kept Anne and the seven others supplied for two years, from 1942 to 1944. When the family were found by the authorities, they were deported, and Anne died of typhus in the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen.

It was Mrs Gies who collected up Anne's papers and locked them away, hoping that one day she would be able to give them back to the girl. In the event, she returned them to Otto Frank, who survived the war, and helped him compile them into a diary that was published in 1947. It went on to sell tens of millions of copies in dozens of languages.

Mrs Gies became a kind of ambassador for the diary, travelling to talk about Anne Frank and her experiences, campaigning against Holocaust denial and refuting allegations that the diary was a forgery. For her efforts to protect the Franks and to preserve their memory, Mrs Gies won many accolades.

In an interview from 1998, published on the annefrank website, Miep Gies says she thought it "perfectly natural" to help Anne and the seven others despite the penalties she could have suffered under the Nazi occupation.

"They were powerless, they didn't know where to turn..." she says. "We did our duty as human beings: helping people in need."

Her role was, she recalls, to fetch vegetables and meat while others supplied bread or books. Her memory of Anne is of having the feeling she was "speaking to an adult".

"I'd say to myself, 'My goodness, child, so young and talking like that already'," she says in the interview. She believes that she once came across Anne writing the diary.

"It was a very uncomfortable situation," she says. "I tried to decide what to do. Should I walk away or go to her? At that moment she glanced at me, with a look that I'll never forget. This wasn't the Anne I knew, that friendly, charming child. She looked at me with anger, rage. Then Anne stood up, slammed her diary shut and glared at me with great condescension. 'Yes,' she said, 'I'm writing about you, too.' I didn't know what to say. The only thing I could manage was: 'That ought to be interesting.'"

Mrs Gies also remembers the day the Franks were taken away and how she went up into the empty annex to find the pages of the diary lying on the floor. Removing the pages, she did not read them immediately, telling herself at the time: "These may belong to a child, but even children have a right to privacy."


Miep Gies

Anne Frank Museum

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