Miep Gies died this week aged 100. She helped shelter Anne Frank’s family during the Second World War and saved Anne’s diaries which were published to great acclaim
Aimed at: Key stage 2
Today we’re going to be talking about the Second World War, where many countries banded together to fight the Nazis who had taken over the German government.
The Nazis were good at hating people: they hated Jewish people, they hated Gypsies, they hated disabled people, they hated gay people – they seemed to hate everyone who wasn’t like them or didn’t think like them. If you tried to stand up to them you were put in prison. And a lot of people who were put in Nazi prisons were killed.
A lot of people thought this was wrong and tried to help the people the Nazis wanted to put in prison, and they tried to hide them to keep them safe – a very dangerous thing to do.
Today’s story is about two young women: one whom the Nazis wanted to put in prison, and one who tried to help her.
The story of Miep Gies
Hermine was born in Vienna in Austria. Her family called her Miep as a nickname. She was 10 years old when the First World War ended. Food was very short in Austria after the war so her family were sent to Holland where food was a bit more plentiful. Miep liked her new home so she stayed there.
When she was 24 she got an office job in a factory run by a Jewish man called Otto Frank. Miep liked working for Otto and she and her husband became family friends, getting to know Otto’s two children, Margot and Anne.
But it soon became clear to everyone that war was coming. Adolf Hitler had come to power in Germany and in May 1940 the Nazis invaded Holland.
Anyone who was Jewish was very scared. They all knew that the Nazis hated Jews. What would they do to them?
Soon the Nazis started rounding up Jews and sending them to prison. Nobody yet knew that the prisons were in fact concentration camps and that six million Jewish people would be murdered in them.
Some Jewish people accepted their fate and boarded the packed trains that would take them away.
But Miep didn’t want this to happen to her Jewish friends, the Frank family.
Together they worked out that there was a tiny, unused space in one of the factory buildings. The family could hide there, together with four other scared Jewish people. Miep and several others brought food to the eight people hiding in that tiny space. Anyone helping a Jew could be sent to prison – or shot. Nobody knew how long the ordeal would go on for – how long the war would go on for. In fact Miep helped the Jewish families for two long years.
Why did Miep do what she did? Her strong Christian faith made her believe that you should help people when you can:
“They were powerless, they didn’t know where to turn… We did our duty as human beings: helping people in need.” (1)
For two long years seven people hid in a cramped space, unable to go out, see the sky, meet other people. Can you imagine what that was like?
Well, in some ways you don’t have to imagine it because Otto Frank’s youngest daughter, Anne, kept a diary of what it was like.
Here is what she wrote:
“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.
“It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.” (2)
Those words were written just two weeks before the Frank family and their friends were found by the Nazis. Somehow they had been discovered.
Miep laid low: so far she was safe and no-one knew of her involvement. She went to their hiding place and found papers scattered on the floor – the remains of the diary that Anne had kept during the two years she had been in hiding.
Miep didn’t read them, hoping against hope that she would one day return the diary to Anne.
The Frank family were taken away and sent to a concentration camp – then split up: Anne, Margot and their mum to one camp; Otto to another.
Otto was the first of them to make it back to Amsterdam. Eagerly he sought out Miep but she had heard nothing about Anne. They waited together until one day the news came: Otto’s wife and two daughters had died in the concentration camp, along with six million other Jewish people.
Miep gave the diary to Otto. When he was able to bear to look at it, he realised what a wonderful writer his daughter had become and he decided to publish her diaries as her memorial – and as a reminder that good people suffer when evil people have power.
Miep Gies died last week aged 100.
War brings out the worst in some people, but it can bring out the best in others – people like Miep who put the lives of others before their own safety.
Perhaps we’ll leave the final words with Miep:
“I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did or more – much more – during those dark and terrible times years ago, but always like yesterday in the hearts of those of us who bear witness. Never a day goes by that I do not think of what happened then.” (3)
Help us to remember the victims of war wherever they are in the world. Teach us to always work for peace and friendship. Amen.
Arguments are not won by force but through talking.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2010
About the author: Jane A. C. West