Anne Frank and her sheltering friends. The Gies family recalls an extremely risky period
THE Anne Frank diary, considered by some the most eloquent antiwar document ever written, might have been destroyed by the very person who saved it for the world. Miep Gies, the Austrian-born Dutch woman who had served as a secretary in Otto Frank's office and who helped hide the Frank family in their secret upstairs annex during World War II, said in a Monitor interview that she might have destroyed the diary if she had known what was in it.Skip to next paragraph
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In Dutch-flavored English, Mrs. Gies said, ``When I found the notebooks, I knew they were Anne's diaries. I did not read them, because they were private, and I think I will give them to her when she returns. When we know she is dead, I turn the diaries over to Mr. Frank. Then I did not read them until after the second edition, because I was in fear of what I might read about those painful times. It is lucky I had not read them when I found them, because Anne wrote the addresses of the other Jewish people we visited during the war. If I had read the diaries, I would have had to burn them. It was too dangerous in case the Germans saw them.''
Mrs. Gies and her husband, Jan, both part of a loyal band of non-Jews who helped hide the Frank family and their friends during the German occupation of Amsterdam, were in New York to talk about the television show based on her book, ``Anne Frank Remembered'' (see preview below) and to attend a benefit screening for the American Friends of the Anne Frank Center here. They are both lively, animated people, she 79, he 82. Neither speaks English perfectly, and they help each other with loving concern, and turn for help to the director of the Anne Frank Foundation, who has accompanied them from Amsterdam, when they are both at a loss for English words.
Mrs. Gies says she doesn't think about who it was who finally gave away the hiding place. ``I don't think about it, because Otto Frank said, `No, I don't ever want to know. You also should not try to find out.'''
With her reading of the diary, Mrs. Gies says, she realized that Anne would probably have become a great writer. ``Sometimes I saw her as an ordinary child. But when you spoke to her for a while there came the feeling that you spoke not to a child but to an adult. When I finally read the diary, I learned more about her development from child into woman.
``She was such a curious child. She always wanted to know what was happening outside. We told her in the beginning, but after a year my husband said that I must not tell her all the terrible things outside, because it is terrible enough to be in hiding. But she was clever and asked things in a special way and at last got the answers she wanted.''
Although Miep and Anne had a warm, close relationship, there were still some inevitable moments of irritation. After all, Mrs. Gies implies, Anne was only a teen-ager.
``We five helpers in the office below had tasks to do for the family upstairs. One afternoon, after I went up and got the shopping list, I decided to surprise them with a pleasure visit, because they were sitting there all day alone. I go into the sleeping room of Anne and her mother, and there was Anne sitting at a table near the window, writing. I did not know what to do, because I understood I was disturbing her. She looked up with dark anger in her face. Her mother saw us standing there like statues and said in a friendly way, `Yes, Miep, do you know we have a daughter who writes?' `I know,' I said. Anne stood up and looked at me, slammed the book shut, and said: `And about you I'm writing, too.' I said, `That will be fine,' and I went back downstairs, upset. But she never wrote about it in her diary.''
Although Mrs. Gies put her life on the line to oppose Nazi actions, she will not criticize people like Kurt Waldheim who remained silent. ``You did, or you didn't. It was an individual matter. With every nation, you will find people who failed to make the right stand. But, although there were many other Dutch people who did what we did, there were also many Dutch who served the Nazis. It was an individual matter.
``I do not want to be looked at as a hero, a big star, the central person. I did what I felt I had to do. That's all. It is not a matter of being Dutch or Austrian or German or American. It is an individual decision. What must happen is that the situation which asks for this kind of choice must be avoided.
``We only did our human duty to help people who need help. Many people in the Netherlands did the same work as we. But there were heroes and they were the eight people in the attic who hid for two years waiting every day in fear - shall we survive this terrible time? Only the diary of Anne Frank survived.''
Mrs. Gies feels that the major legacy of the diary is the realization that mankind can be very inhumane. ``But I am happy that the younger generations have not forgotten Anne. I get many letters, and I answer them all.
``The first question I am always asked is: `Do you hate Germans?' The answer is `No.' For years after the war I hated Germans, but then I began to realize that hate has no purpose.''
Miep Gies has only one regret, which she thinks about often. ``Should I have gone to the concentration camp with Anne to try to help her?'' Then she consoles herself. ``But that was impossible, because I had to stay there to save what I could save - the diary, the house, the machines. It was August 1944, and we thought we could save things so it would all be there when the Frank family came back.''
Only Otto returned. Mrs. Gies says that Otto Frank, who lived in the home of the Gieses for seven years after the war, at first felt that the diary was a personal family treasure. ``But then he spoke to some of his Jewish friends, and it rose in their heads that it had to be published, because it was a historic document. I can say out of my heart that I am happy that I could give the diary to her father and that Mr. Frank gave it to the world.''