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Miep Gies dies at 100; gave protection to Anne Frank

Gies helped hide Otto Frank's family in an Amsterdam attic for 25 months. She gathered pages from Anne's diary and saved them after the family was captured by the Gestapo in 1944.

January 12, 2010|By Claudia Luther

That summer, on a rainy Monday, the Franks officially disappeared behind a bookcase into the upstairs rooms they would occupy for the next 25 months.

Gies was one of their first visitors. But, seeing their grief, she offered to go find some food, wanting to leave them alone.

"They had simply closed the door of their lives and had vanished from Amsterdam," Gies said. "Mrs. Frank's face said it all. Quickly, I left them."

For the next two years, until the Franks and four others, who later went into hiding with them, were ultimately betrayed, Gies and her husband used pluck and illegal ration cards to provide food and other supplies to the upstairs prisoners.

Gies would visit in the morning before she reported for her office duties, and again in the evening after everyone had left. During the day, the family barely moved, fearful that the slightest sound would reveal their presence to the other workers downstairs.

A hunter

"Because I was a lifeline, I felt myself to be a kind of hunter," Gies said, "ever hunting for my always-hungry brood." Others quietly helped -- a butcher, a baker, a greengrocer.

During the family's confinement, Gies and the others were aware that Anne was writing in the red-orange checkered cloth-bound diary that her father had given her for her 13th birthday, a few weeks before they went into hiding.

Anne, who wanted to become a writer, had begun her diary with girlish entries. But after going into hiding she became a more serious writer.

Anne referred to Gies numerous times in her diary: "Miep is just like a pack mule, she fetches and carries so much." "Miep has made a lovely Christmas cake, on which she has written 'Peace 1944.' " "It seems as if we are never far from Miep's thoughts."

Meanwhile, the Gieses also took a young Jewish man into hiding in their apartment, stretching their rations even further.

After many months, there was good news on the war front in Europe, but the Netherlands was still in the grip of the Nazis. On Aug. 4, 1944 -- a Friday morning, as lunchtime approached -- a man showed up at the office and pointed a revolver at Gies and her fellow workers.

The secret hiding quarters had been betrayed and, as a grief-stricken Gies watched, the Franks were taken into custody by the Gestapo.

"I could tell from their footsteps that they were coming down like beaten dogs," she said. "But I could not go to them and say 'goodbye.' "

Gies, who was suspected of hiding them, escaped arrest only because one of the officers was a fellow Viennese and he let her go. She later said she always felt guilty about that.

After the officers left with their prisoners, Gies and some others found the hiding place ransacked. Fearing that the officers would return looking for valuables, Gies scanned the chaos and spotted Anne's diary on the floor.

"I knew how precious [it] was to Anne," Gies wrote.

The diary and many other of Anne's papers were quickly gathered up and dumped into Gies' office drawer, unlocked. She intended to return them to Anne when she came back to Amsterdam.

Ten months later, the war was over. Otto Frank returned -- the only survivor of the camps among his family and his friends in hiding.

Anne's mother, Edith, died at Auschwitz.

Voice from the past

The day Otto Frank heard the news about his daughters in a letter he received in his office, a shocked Gies reached into the drawer of her desk and took out Anne's unread diary and papers.

Gies said, "Here is your daughter Anne's legacy to you. He touched it with his fingers."

When Frank could finally bring himself to read it, he began translating the diary into German for his mother to read.

Later, someone saw excerpts and asked for more. Eventually a publisher convinced a reluctant Frank to allow the book to be published. It was first titled "Het Achterhuis," or "The Annex," Anne's nickname for the rooms they occupied.

Gies, still grieving for Anne and Anne's mother and sister, was unable to read the diary until well into its second printing. She believed she would be invading Anne's privacy and that it would be too painful. At Otto Frank's urging, she sat down with it.

"I read the whole diary without stopping. I heard Anne's voice come back to speak to me from where she had gone."

But, she told the Washington Post years later, had she read it before she turned it over to Anne's father, she probably would have burned it.

"Anne had written [about] other people that were in hiding -- by name," she explained. "The Nazis would have come for them."

After the war, Gies devoted herself to raising a son, who was born in 1950. Otto Frank lived with the Gieses for several years before moving to Switzerland. He died in 1980.

Though reluctant to take credit for helping the Franks while they were in hiding, Gies was glad that she could help fulfill Anne's life ambition of being immortalized through her writing.

"I could not save Anne's life," she said. "However, I did save her diary, and by that I could help her most important dreams to come true."

In 1996, Gies was knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

Jan Gies died in 1993. Gies is survived by her son and three grandchildren.

Luther is a former Times staff writer.

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