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January 12, 2010
"Don't Call Her a Hero"
The Rev. Dr. Scott StonerMiep Gies died this week at the age of 100. She insisted on not ever wanting be called a hero, and so I apologize to you Ms. Gies for writing this column about how you are a hero to me.
I never heard of Miep Gies as I was growing up. Like millions of school children since the 1950's though, I knew a great deal about fourteen year old Anne Frank. I read her diary in class, and recall watching a movie about her life. I remember being spellbound by the story of the Frank family being hidden from the Nazis in a secret annex for two years. Well, if it wasn't for Miep Gies, none of us would know about Anne Frank, nor would we have been able to read her diary.
Ms. Gies and her husband Jan, along with a few other friends, were responsible for hiding the Frank family and for caring for their daily needs while in hiding. Before the Nazi's invaded the Netherlands, Ms. Gies, a Roman Catholic, worked as a secretary for Mr. Frank, and was very loyal to him. When the Nazi's invaded the Netherlands, and began sending Jews to concentration camps. Miep Gies did not think twice about offering to protect the Frank family, even though doing so, meant that she risked her life. The punishment for hiding Jews from the Nazi's was death.
For two years, Ms. Gies and her husband brought food to the Frank family. This was no small feat in a city where food was strictly rationed. Ms. Gies also baked cakes, bought Anne Frank her first high heels, and always found ways to honor birthdays and special holidays. When the Franks were finally discovered by the Nazi's, it was a miracle that Miep and her husband were not killed. After the Franks were taken away--the saddest day of Miep's life, which she said she never got over, it was Miep who discovered the diary that Anne had written while in hiding.
Miep believed that a young girl's diary was private and sacred, and so she did not read it, but kept it hidden in a drawer, hoping to some day give it back to Anne. Keeping the diary itself was an incredible risk, because of course she was referenced many times in Anne's writing, and this alone would have sufficed as evidence to warrant a death sentence. Anne of course did not survive the concentration camp, but her father Otto did, and Miep gave the diary to Otto in 1945. He first published the diary in 1947.
What I have written so far, would be more than enough to classify anyone as a hero, a person with the absolute highest degree of character and courage. But what happened after Miep gave the diary to Otto Frank in 1945 is just as compelling. For the next forty-two years she called little to no attention to what she had done. In fact, she insisted on not being called a hero. In 1997 she said to a group of school children, "Who is a hero? I was not. I was just an ordinary housewife and secretary." She went on to explain that she was worried that if people saw her as special, as a hero, then they might neglect their everyday duty to simply "do the right thing" when someone in trouble needs help. In 1987, Ms. Giep published a memoir called "Anne Frank Remembered." Only then did she become well known, as she traveled the world through her 80"s to speak out against hatred and evil.
Miep Gies is a refreshing balance to some of the people our culture considers to be "heros" today, those who seek the limelight even though what they have done is hardly admirable. How ironic that Miep Gies shares todays headlines with baseball's Mark McGuire, who has just now decided to finally stop lying about his chemically fueled accomplishments.
Miep Gies is the real deal. She is a real hero, whose accomplishments were fueled by faith, love and courage. Thank you Miep for inspiring us, and for showing us how to set and follow one's moral compass in life.