Protector of Anne Frank diary remembered for selfless courage

Without Miep Gies, the story of Anne Frank might never have been known.

The former office secretary who helped hide the Jewish teenager from the Nazis for two years gathered up the scattered diary pages after the Frank family was arrested and sent to concentration camps. She locked the papers — unread — in her desk until Frank’s father Otto returned, the only family member to survive.

Miep Gies displays a copy of her book, “Anne Frank Remembered,” in 1998. photo/ap/steve north

Gies died Jan. 11 from a neck injury suffered when she fell last month. She was 100 and had been one of the few people still alive who knew Anne Frank.

Gies was the last of the “helpers,” the six non-Jews who smuggled food, books, writing paper and news of the outside world to the secret attic apartment in the canal-side warehouse where Anne, her parents, sister and four other Jews hid during World War II.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, in a letter to Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, said Gies “won the hearts of all of us” through her efforts to save the Frank family and rescue the diary.

Gies said she never read Anne Frank’s diary until she gave the pages to Otto Frank, saying even a teenager’s privacy was sacred. Later, she said if she had read them during the war she would have had to burn them because they incriminated the “helpers.”

“Every day for over two years [Gies] put herself in danger by hiding Jews from the Nazis,” said Anne Frank’s cousin, Bernd “Buddy” Elias, who last saw Gies on her 100th birthday. “If they had caught her, she would have been put in a concentration camp herself.”

Gies brushed aside the accolades for helping hide the Frank family as more than she deserved. “This is very unfair. So many others have done the same or even far more dangerous work,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press days before her 100th birthday in February 2009.

She resisted being made a character study of heroism for the young.

“I don’t want to be considered a hero,” she said in a 1997 online chat with schoolchildren. “Imagine young people would grow up with the feeling that you have to be a hero to do your human duty. I am afraid nobody would ever help other people, because who is a hero? I was not. I was just an ordinary housewife and secretary.”

Born Hermine Santrouschitz on Feb. 15, 1909 in Vienna, Gies, a Roman Catholic, moved to Amsterdam when she was 11 to escape food shortages in Austria. She lived with a host family who gave her the nickname Miep.

In 1933, Gies took a job as an office assistant in the spice business of Otto Frank. After refusing to join a Nazi organization in 1941, she avoided deportation to Austria by marrying her Dutch boyfriend, Jan Gies.

As the Nazis ramped up their arrests and deportations of Dutch Jews, Otto Frank asked Gies in July 1942 to help hide his family in the annex above the company’s canal-side warehouse on Prinsengracht 263 and to bring them food and supplies.

“I answered, ‘Yes, of course.’ It seemed perfectly natural to me. I could help these people. They were powerless, they didn’t know where to turn,” she said years later.

Jan and Miep Gies worked with four other employees in the company to sustain the Franks and four other Jews sharing the annex. Jan secured extra food ration cards from the underground resistance. Miep cycled around the city, alternating grocers to ward off suspicions from this highly dangerous activity.

In her book, “Anne Frank Remembered,” Gies recalled being in the office when the German police, acting on a tip that historians have failed to trace, raided the hide-out in August 1944.

After the arrests, Gies went to the police station to offer a bribe for the Franks’ release, but it was too late. On Aug. 8, they were sent to Westerbork, a concentration camp in eastern Holland from where they were later packed into cattle cars and deported to Auschwitz. A few months later, Anne and her sister Margot were transported to Bergen-Belsen.

After the war, Otto Frank returned to Amsterdam and lived with the Gies family until he remarried in 1952. Miep worked for him as he compiled the diary, then devoted herself to talking about the diary and answering piles of letters with questions from around the world.

After Otto Frank’s death in 1980, Gies continued to campaign against Holocaust deniers and to refute allegations that the diary was a forgery.

She suffered a stroke in 1997 that slightly affected her speech, but she remained generally in good health and mentally alert.

She is survived by her son and three grandchildren.