Rescuer of Anne Frank's diary marks 100th birthday
Anne Frank called them the Helpers. They provided food, books and good cheer while she and her family hid for two years from the Nazis in a tiny attic apartment. On Sunday, the last surviving helper, Miep Gies, celebrates her 100th birthday, saying she has won more accolades for helping the Frank family than she deserved — as if, she says, she tried to save all the Jews of occupied Holland.world Updated: Feb 13, 2009 09:33 IST
Anne Frank called them the Helpers. They provided food, books and good cheer while she and her family hid for two years from the Nazis in a tiny attic apartment.
On Sunday, the last surviving helper, Miep Gies, celebrates her 100th birthday, saying she has won more accolades for helping the Frank family than she deserved — as if, she says, she tried to save all the Jews of occupied Holland.
"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 this week.
It was Gies who gathered up Anne's scattered papers and notebooks after the hiding place was raided in 1944. She locked them — unread — in a desk drawer to await the teenager's return.
Anne died of typhus in the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen seven months after her arrest. British and Canadian troops liberated the camp two weeks later.
Gies gave the collection to Anne's father Otto, the only survivor among the eight people who hid in the concealed attic of the canal-side warehouse. He published it in 1947, and it was released in English in 1952 as "The Diary of a Young Girl." Retitled "The Diary of Anne Frank," it was the first book about the Holocaust to win popular appeal, and has sold tens of millions of copies in dozens of languages.
As she looked forward to a quiet birthday with her son and three grandchildren, Gies paid tribute to the "unnamed heroes" who helped Dutch Jews escape the net during the five years of Nazi occupation.
"I would like to name one, my husband Jan. He was a resistance man who said nothing but did a lot. During the war he refused to say anything about his work, only that he might not come back one night. People like him existed in thousands but were never heard," she said.
Jan Gies, who was not one of the four office workers who supplied the Frank family with their daily needs, died in 1993.
Such people fought a lonely battle in the Netherlands. Historians say collaborators were many and anti-Nazi resistance was light. Of the prewar Jewish population of 140,000, some 107,000 were arrested and deported. The Red Cross says only 5,200 of them survived the war.
Like the Franks, about 24,000 Dutch Jews went into hiding, of which 8,000 were hunted down or betrayed in exchange for a bounty.
After the war, Gies worked for Otto Frank as he compiled and edited the diary, then devoted herself to talking about the diary and answering letters from around the world. After Frank's death in 1980, Gies continued to campaign against Holocaust-deniers and to refute allegations that the diary was a forgery.
Though she ended her travels years ago and no longer gives interviews, her son Paul Gies says his mother "still receives a sizable amount of mail which she masters together with a longtime family friend."
Miep Gies suffered a stroke in 1997 which has slightly affected her speech, but she is generally in good health, her son said in an e-mail. She spends her days at the apartment where she has lived since 2000 reading two newspapers and following television news and talk shows.
A new edition of her 1987 book "Anne Frank Remembered" is due to be published this year.
Gies was born in Austria, and came to the Netherlands at age 13 to escape food shortages and live with a foster family. In 1933 she was hired as an office assistant in Otto Frank's spice business. Frank asked her in July 1942 to help hide his family in the annex above the company's warehouse and to bring them food and supplies.
The family, joined by four other Jews, hid for 25 months before they were betrayed. Repeated investigations by police and historians failed to definitively identify who turned them in.
First Published: Feb 13, 2009 09:30 IST