Remembering Miep Gies: Who Is a Hero?

22 Jan 2010

Miep Gies is dead and most people say “Who?”

Anne Frank is a household name. You can read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. You can watch The Diary of Anne Frank. You can even visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

If it wasn’t for Miep Gies, no one would ever have heard of Anne Frank.

Miep Gies was Otto Frank’s secretary. In the spring of 1942, he asked for her help in concealing his family from the Nazis, help she did not hesitate to provide, even though being discovered could have meant her own execution. For more than two years, she helped conceal the Franks, the Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer. Her role included ensuring that the eight people crammed in the tiny attic remained fed, despite war-time rationing. (What the Franks didn’t know was that Miep and her husband, Jan, were concealing yet another person, in their own home.)

After the Franks were arrested by the Gestapo in August, 1944, Miep and Jo Kleiman (who also assisted in concealing the families) gathered Anne’s diary pages for safekeeping before the secret annex became inaccessible to them. Anne and her sister Margot died in Bergen-Belsen, but their father survived. The diary was returned to Otto Frank, who had it published. And the rest is history.

Despite her courageous acts, Miep was known for her modesty. She didn’t read Anne’s diary when she rescued it; Otto Frank was only able to persuade her to do so when the diary entered its second printing. Miep did not allow her own story to be told until 1987. In an obituary that appeared in Time Magazine, Elie Wiesel quoted Miep as not considering herself a hero. Rather, she felt she just did what needed doing. This attitude is part of what makes her a hero.

The Talmud tells us that a person who saves a single life is like one who saves an entire world. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “Father of the Atomic Bomb,” famously quoted Hindu scripture when he said, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Conversely, Miep Gies made herself into life, the rescuer of worlds.

The entire Jewish people – the entire world – owes Miep Gies a tremendous debt of gratitude, for both her actions and her example. Her name deserves to be as well-known as Oskar Schindler and Anne Frank. Miep replicated the acts of the former on a scale achievable by those of us who do not own factories, and she gifted the latter with two additional years of life.

Anne Frank famously wrote, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” If you knew Miep Gies, you’d feel that way, too.