Miep Gies, protector of Anne Frank

Miep Gies, one of the heroes who sheltered the Frank family, always insisted that she did nothing out of the ordinary.

Miep Gies, known to the world as a protector of Anne Frank and custodian of the girl's diary, died yesterday at the age of 100. She was the last living person to be mentioned in "The Diary of Anne Frank."

Gies was a modest woman who sought no fame and always argued that in helping to hide the Frank family she did nothing special. She made a point of reminding the world that at least 20,000 Dutch citizens also sheltered Jews and other persecuted persons during the Nazi era and that untold thousands of others risked their lives serving as part of the Dutch resistance.

Gies was a displaced person herself. Born Hermine Santrouschitz to a Roman Catholic German family in Vienna, she was sent to Holland at the age of 12 to escape food shortages. Her host family eventually adopted her, giving her the nickname of "Miep."

As an adult, Gies worked as a secretary to Otto Frank, father of Anne. After the Nazi invasion of 1940, Otto Frank decided his family was no longer safe. In July 1942 the Franks and four others hid themselves in rooms above the offices of Otto Frank's firm. For two years Gies and her husband and three colleagues risked their lives to smuggle food and provisions to the Franks.

On August 4, 1944, the Franks and their friends were discovered and taken away by the Gestapo. Gies, who was being detained in the office at gunpoint, did not see the eight leave the building, but later remembered how she heard their footsteps on the wooden stairs and knew from the sound "that they were coming down like beaten dogs."

After they were gone she went to their hiding place and found 15-year-old Anne's diary. She hid it and, respecting Anne's privacy, did not read it. (She later said that had she read it she would have destroyed it as it could have endangered those who helped the Franks.)

When Otto Frank, who survived imprisonment in Auschwitz, returned in 1945, she gave the diary to him.

Gies spent the rest of her life battling Holocaust deniers and fostering the legacy of Anne Frank. She also spent August 4 in seclusion every year, using the day as a personal memorial to the group of eight whom she remembered as "my people."

Thanks to Gies, they now belong to all of us.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/MarjorieKehe

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