Miep Gies (1909-2010): Who Saved More than a Diary

Miep died this
week at the tender age of a hundred.

She is possibly one of
the world's most famous secretaries. Mostly because one day she found a little
girl's diary and saved it for a time when she hoped she could return it to the
poor kid. But that day never came. Instead she gave it to the young lady's father.

Miep died this
week at the tender age of a hundred.

She is possibly one of
the world's most famous secretaries. Mostly because one day she found a little
girl's diary and saved it for a time when she hoped she could return it to the
poor kid. But that day never came. Instead she gave it to the young lady's father.

The first time I
remember seeing Miep's face was in a picture on the first floor of the Anne
frank house. The kids and I went there when we first lived in Amsterdam. And
then I went pretty much every time someone from home came to visit. That's one
of the things you do in Amsterdam. Sure some folks smoke dope, everyone tours
the red light district and then sooner or later your mind returns to the
profound history of the city and the Anne frank house becomes a must see

We all know the story.
After the Nazi's invaded the Netherlands and the Dutch royal family fled to Canada
and all hell broke loose. And I mean hell. The kind of hell only certain Rwandans
and Sudanese and Armenians and Native Americans and Mayans and others can
imagine. The kind where an organized genocide is carried out; a government
sponsored genocide.

I was in Amsterdam
studying this World War 2 time period at the University of Amsterdam. The U.S.
literally shut its borders to all Jews who didn't have a sponsor. During the
height of the holocaust only seventy thousand Jews were allowed to come to the United
States from Europe and most of them had financial sponsors; these were Americans
who could afford to pay tens of thousands of dollars for each person who
emigrated away from the slaughter.

Winding through the
spice warehouse that was the first floor of the building in which Anne and her
sister and her parents and four other Jews hid from the Nazis it is hard not to
hear the building settle under the weight of the guilt you feel as you walk. Guilt
you carry as an American, as a non-Jew, as the privileged who have not been

If you've read her
diaries than you know - as you walk up the stairs to the annex - that Anne and
the others listened to the BBC on the radio and heard the news reports of
d-day. You're mind recalls her joy and
you forgive your country almost completely for its heartlessly closed borders.

Then you arrive up
stairs. The Dutch restored and preserved the annex. Thoughts of Miep, who bravely
fed and loved and cared for these eight refugees, flood your mind. Thoughts of Anne who walked to the annex with
numerous layers on so that she would have a couple of changes of clothes while
she hid away. Thoughts of Anne's mom who
made them lay almost breathlessly as the Nazis regularly searched the lower
floors never looking behind the giant book case that hid the stairway to the
annex. The stowed captives' fear and
hope all crash through your heart at once.

Miep had to be careful.
she had to ride her bike all over the area to buy them groceries with illegal
black market ration cards so that she wouldn't arouse suspicion and delivered
the food to them. She also enrolled in
correspondence classes and brought the lessons to Anne and her sister. Miep
died this week likely never understanding a word of Latin because all those Latin
classes she had signed up for were taken - tests and all - by the girls hiding
up stairs.

And she brought Anne,
who was totally star struck, magazines.

When the preservation
society restored the annex they placed plastic on the original walls - on the
original wall paper - and over the pictures that Anne had taped to them. Then they cut the walls out of the building;
restored the structure to its original strength and put the walls back.

You walk into a room
with movie star pictures taped to the wall paper; pictures that Anne taped up
herself. Notes and lessons that Anne and
her sister taped there with their own young hands; hands that worked the same
way that the fingers and thumbs of the Nazis hunting them down worked. And you think of the similarities between the
brutes and the captives and you can almost hear the sound of hearts breaking. Then when you reach over to touch the plastic
over the picture of a fading starlet; you realize that the cracking sound is
not the ghost of past tragedy but the sound of your own heart - at that very
moment - breaking for the murdered residents of this attic prison. A prison of hope thanks to Miep's courage and
her husband's courage and the others who tried their hardest to keep the Franks
safe until the rest of the world stopped the genocide.

Even chatty tourists
fall stone silent in that garret. I've
been in that small three room space a dozen times and sometimes with dozens of
others and you could hear a pin drop. And then slowly, achingly you descend the
stairs - the stairs the Nazis dragged the family down - thinking of that
scenario played out a million or more times. The hunt, the hunted, the dead and
you come to the bottom of the stairs and you see the mission of the Anne Frank
house as it is today.

High over head is a
sign that says "no genocide was ever cancelled for a lack of executioners"
and you see what hopefully - certainly - would make Anne Frank proud. The
reminder that we need to be better people:
A better species. That we can't
waste our lives wondering about making other lives better or even forgetting
that other lives need to be better. We must struggle to just MAKE THEM BETTER, to
love each other. Stop the pain by having
the courage that Miep had.

Miep didn't want to be
called a hero because she wanted 'doing your human duty' to be thought of as
ordinary not heroic. But sadly we know otherwise. Being a really good human
requires heroism.

Interestingly, Miep
never read Anne's diaries when she had them. She didn't want to invade a young
girl's privacy. And later she told a reporter that she was glad that she didn't
because the diary's named the names of Anne's protectors and to save herself
she would have had to have burned them.

The courage to love
and respect Anne Frank blindly; even after the Nazis took Anne. That is a
courage the rest of us mere mortals can only hope to have. I hope that I might
have half that courage.

May Miep's memory live
on forever! Every day Anne Frank lived in that annex was a gift Miep gave her
at the potential cost of her own life.

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