On January 12th 2010, Miep Gies died aged 100. She was the last survivor of those brave people who hid Anne Frank and her group in The Secret Annexe in Amsterdam from the Nazis. Anne wrote, "We are never far from Miep's thoughts." It was Miep who brought Anne the news she craved from the outside world, along with her first high heels.
I feel as though I have lost my big sister. As a Jewish girl growing up in London after the Holocaust, Miep's devotion and bravery was an important light onto the darkness we were all finding out about. " I am not a hero," wrote Miep decades later in her memoirs, but she was to Anne Frank and her group. And she certainly was to me. I feel as though Miep has been there as a guiding light all my life and now that she has gone a special spark has left us. We were blessed she had such a long life.
Miep Gies was a young woman when she helped to hide the group from the Nazis. When they were betrayed by an anonymous tip off her life was spared. It was Miep who found Anne's diary after the Nazis had left and hid it at great personal risk to herself. After the war she was reunited with Otto Frank, the only survivor of the Annexe and she gave him the diary.
The Diary in the Anne Frank Museum
In 1971 I went on a biking holiday in Holland and in Amsterdam I visited the Anne Frank House and Museum. It was amazing to see how true to the diary the Annexe was, especially Anne's narrow room with the film star photos still on the wall. My copy of the diary had fallen apart years before, so I took a new copy with me. As you can see, it was rather battered in my rucksack.
Miep writes in her memoirs, "I stand at the end of the long long line of good Dutch people who did what I did and more - much more- during those dark and terrible times years ago, but always like yesterday in the heart of those of us who bear witness."
A typically modest woman, in fact Miep went to Gestapo headquarters the next day to try and bribe the SS for the freedom of the group. She even stumbled upon some of the SS listening to the BBC and was lucky to escape with her life.
Anne Frank's diary was a beacon to me from childhood. Her honesty gave me permission to take risks very early on in my own writing. I remember gasping when I read, "Today I had my period." From my upbringing, I would never have mentioned such a thing!!I was already recording my thoughts in those wonderful little diaries we all had, with silver keys and have written diaries all my life. But Anne's diary lead the way forward. When Anne fell in love with Peter, I fell in love with him too and I was completely convinced by her picture of the awful dentist. All the more poignant when I saw a meeting only a few years ago between Miep and the dentist's son and learnt from the son what a lovely man he really was.
Anne Frank has inspired young writers all around the world for decades with her elegant prose, her courage and her integrity. And now Miep has gone from us too, our big sister, our protector, our witness. On the anniversary each year of the arrest by the Nazis, Miep sat at home in silence as a memorial to the group from the Annexe. "Not a day goes by that I do not grieve for them, " she wrote. And now we must grieve for Miep.