I was delighted to read of the death yesterday of Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who helped to hide the Frank family and friends in a secret annexe during World War Two. I was delighted because she lived to be 100 years old; delighted because she had such a long and, I hope, fulfilling life. She deserved it. What courage she and a handful of colleagues had in hiding the eight Jews, bringing them food and providing them with news and more significantly, notepaper for Otto Frank’s young daughter Anne, to use for her writing. Gies and her colleagues (one of whom, Jan, became her husband) did this for two years. Two years in a city riven with fear, paranoia and corruption.
But in August 1944 an anonymous phone call betrayed the fugitives. Gies was sitting at her desk when Nazi officers stormed the building. One pointed a gun at her head while the others threw back the bookcase hiding the secret passage leading to the annexe. Even then Gies bravery continued. As soon as the officers had left she rushed upstairs to the ransacked rooms and gathered up documents and the scattered pages of Anne’s diary, hoping to return it to her after the war. The Nazis came back the next day to clear the attic entirely. Soon after that, Gies volunteered to go the the SS HQ in an attempt to bribe the SS officer to release the family. As everyone knows, she was unsuccessful. They were all deported to Auschwitz where the men and women were separated. Anne, her older sister Margot and her mother were sent to Bergen-Belsen camp on the last transport from the Netherlands. They died of typhus a fortnight before the camp was liberated. Of the eight, only Otto Frank survived.
After the war Miep married Jan and they had one son. She lived most of her life in Amsterdam.
Why am I blogging this obituary? Because a survey found that one in six British 9-11 year olds thought that Auschwitz was a theme park. Because I recently went on a school visit where the literacy coordinator told me she’d chosen to ditch studying ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ with her class in favour of Katie Price’s autobiography as the ‘kids could relate to it more.’ So writing this is the least I can do.