I first read Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl when I was eight years old after receiving it for Chanukah. It’s a work I have read about five or six times in the twenty years since, and I am among millions of people who have seen the world of the Holocaust through the eyes of a teenaged girl. Were it not for Miep Gies, I would not have had that opportunity. Gies was one of several Dutch citizens who hid Frank and her family in Amsterdam during World War II. Gies was born in Austria, and met Otto Frank (Anne’s father) in 1933 when she went to work as a secretary for his company. Frank was a friend as well as an employer to Gies, and she took a stand when the Nazis invaded The Netherlands, refusing to join Nazi associations despite threats of deportation. Gies and three colleagues refused to sit idly by while Jews and other citizens were shipped off to concentration camps, hiding seven people, including the Frank family, in a small attic for two years.
When Nazi officers discovered the Secret Annex (as it was called), Gies tried unsuccessfully offered bribes in exchange for the safety of her friends. It was only after Anne Frank and the six others were taken to Bergen Belsen that Gies discovered Frank’s diary, and she kept it safe until after the end of the war. Though Frank was killed at Bergen Belsen, Gies learned Otto Frank had survived, and gave him the preserved diary. In spite of being knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, and being awarded Israel’s Yad Vashem medal (commemorating the heroes and martyrs of the Holocaust, Gies remained modest about what she did, insisting it was simple human decency and not any feat of courage: “I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did or more – much more – during those dark and terrible times years ago, but always like yesterday in the hearts of those of us who bear witness. Never a day goes by that I do not think of what happened then.”