12 January 2010
Death of a hero
According to the Guardian Miep Gies has died at the age of 100 after a brief illness. Madame Gies, who was one of those who helped hide the Frank family, also saved the teenager's diary ensuring that it survived to be published.
Born Hermine Santrouschitz on 15 February 1909 in Vienna, Gies moved to Amsterdam in 1922 to escape food shortages. She lived with a host family, who gave her the nickname Miep.
In 1933, she took a job as an office assistant in the Otto Frank's spice business. After refusing to join a Nazi organization in 1941, she avoided deportation to Austria by marrying her Dutch boyfriend, Jan Gies.
As the Nazis increased their arrests and deportations of Dutch Jews, Otto Frank asked Gies, to help hide his family in the annexe above the company's warehouse on Prinsengracht in July 1942. Jan and Miep Gies worked with four other employees of the firm to sustain the Franks and those who shared the annexe.
In her own book, Anne Frank Remembered, Gies recalled being in the office when the German police, acting on a tip that historians have failed to trace, raided the hideout in August 1944. After the raid she even offered the police a bribe for the Franks' release, but to no avail.
After the war, Otto Frank returned to Amsterdam, where he lived with the Gies family until he remarried in 1952.Miep worked for him as he compiled the diary, then devoted herself to talking about the book and answering letters with questions from around the world.After Otto Frank's death in 1980, she continued to campaign against Holocaust deniers and refute allegations that the diary was a forgery. She suffered a stroke in 1997, which slightly affected her speech, but remained in generally good health as she approached her 100th birthday.
As with many of the wartime generation Madame Gies brushed aside rewards and decorations for helping hide the Frank family as being more than she deserved "This is very unfair. So many others have done the same or even far more dangerous work," she wrote in an email to the Associated Press days before her 100th birthday in February.
Gies was bestowed with the title of Righteous Gentile by the Israeli Holocaust museum. She has also been honoured by the German government, the Dutch monarchy and educational institutions. Despite this in 1997 she told schoolchildren:
"I don't want to be considered a hero. Imagine young people would grow up with the feeling that you have to be a hero to do your human duty. I am afraid nobody would ever help other people, because who is a hero? I was not. I was just an ordinary housewife and secretary."
A hero is not a lantern-jawed, muscle-bound macho man in uniform (although of course they can be). A heroes are ordinary people acting in an extraordinary manner. These last words describe a hero to me.