A photograph of Miep Gies is seen at the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam..
(photo credit: MICHAEL KOOREN / REUTERS)
“I am not a hero,” Miep Gies wrote in the first sentence of her prologue in a book she co-authored about her experiences hiding Anne Frank and her family. While this is an enormous understatement for the Roman Catholic Dutchwoman, the root of her actions during the Holocaust may be traced back to the atmosphere of kind actions that surrounded her in life. The first time Gies was witness to the exceptional power of kindness was as a young child. As a member of a working-class family in Vienna during and after the First World War, Gies (then known as Hermine Santruschitz) and her family didn’t have enough food to eat.
In 1920, she was offered to leave Austria for the Netherlands, by virtue of a Dutch workers’ association aid program to help malnourished children in the aftermath of the war. In December 1920, she arrived at Leiden, being taken in by a Christian working family.
“Kindness, in my depleted condition, was very important to me,” she wrote in “Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family.” “It was medicine as much as the bread, the marmalade, the good Dutch milk and butter an cheese, the toasty temperature of the warm rooms.”
One act of kindness led to another. Dues to Gies’s poor physical condition, she ended up staying in the Netherlands past the date the workers association had told her foster family. But with their and her parents’ permission, she would stay with her foster family in the Netherlands until she would become an adult.
Looking for employment in the Depression, in 1933 Gies found work with a Swiss-German businessman selling pectin to make jam. His name was Otto Frank, the father of the famous-to-be Anne Frank. Gies and her future husband became well-acquainted with the Franks, with Otto and his family inviting them over frequently. And when it came time for the Gieses to marry, Otto arranged a lavish party in his pectin and spices plant, during the era of rations in the Netherlands, for the two to get a taste of the wedding party that they should have had if not for the Nazi occupation. And when the time came around for Gies to return the kindness to her employer and to the family who had helped with her so much, the answer was a quick yes.
“We felt deep anxiety for our Jewish friends. I was eaten by a feeling of terrible regret. How had we been so naive as to think that our neutrality would be respected by an immoral man like Adolf Hitler?” she wrote. “When Mr. Frank had confided in me about the hiding plan, I had that very night told Henk [pseudonym for Gies’s husband Jan Gies] about our conversation. Without discussion, Henk had affirmed his unconditional assistance to the Franks and agreed that the plan was a sound one.”
Gies and her other Dutch acquaintances succeeded in sustaining the Frank family, along with another family, in the secret annex of the Opekta pectin and spices offices. But on August 4, 1944, an SS officer arrived to arrest the families and their helpers. The only Jewish deportee to survive was Otto. In their time in the annex, Anne Frank was able to discern just how kind their Dutch collaborators really were.
“Never have they uttered a single word about the burden we must be, never have they complained that we’re too much trouble,” she wrote in her diary. “They put on their most cheerful expressions, bring flowers and gifts for birthdays and holidays and are always ready to do what they can. That’s something we should never forget; while others display their heroism in battle or against the Germans, our helpers prove theirs every day by their good spirits and affection.”
After the war, Gies gave Anne’s diary to Otto, which would eventually put the Frank family into the spotlight. Gies was honored as a Righteous Among the Nations on March 8, 1972. She died at the age of 100 on January 11, 2000. To learn more about Jewish-Christian relations, check us out at @christian_jpost, on Facebook.com/jpostchristianworld/ and see the best of the Holy Land in The Jerusalem Post - Christian Edition monthly magazine.sign up to our newsletter