1.12.2010

miep gies, last surviving member of family to hide anne frank, dead at age 100

Miep Gies, the last surviving member of the Dutch family who hid Anne Frank's family from the Nazis, has died at age 100. Gies was the safekeeper of Anne Frank's diary until she was able to come forward with it after the war - thus helping to preserve not only the Frank family, but one of the most important first-person records of the fight for survival under genocide that we have.

This woman, her family, and so many of her compatriots were the everyday, unsung heroes of their era. I had a Dutch friend once, and mentioned to him that I had visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. He said, we Dutch are very proud of how many people hid Jewish people during the war, but we are also ashamed that not everybody did. I was stunned. He was ashamed that not everyone risked their own lives to defend others? What beautifully high standards of humanity.

I'm sure many of you have been to the Anne Frank House. I've been in Amsterdam only once, on my first trip to Europe in 1982. Although I had read The Diary of Anne Frank more than once, standing in that tiny, cramped space where the whole family lived, spending their days in silence and fear, was the first time I truly felt in my bones what they may have been through.

The museum is also a testament to genocides everywhere - not to Jewish suffering, but to all victims of genocides, everywhere, bringing the specific experience of the Franks out to the universal experience of human rights. It's quite wonderful. Perhaps I'll see it again one day.

The Diary means a lot to me - as a reader and writer of work for young people, and as a Jew, and as a person who cares about freedom. Most of it read it in high school or junior high, but if you haven't re-read it as an adult, I recommend it.

Thank you, Miep Gies.

39 comments:

Amy said...

Good idea. I remember reading it as a young person (perhaps at around Anne's age at the beginning) and feeling deeply wounded. My parents had not discussed the Holocaust with me, and so the Diary was my introduction to it. I obviously identified with Anne---she was a young middle class girl about my age at the time. It was devastating. I did read it again, but not in a long long time. I know there are now less edited versions available which I have not read.

Have you read the book about Miep? I read that when it came out and was once again greatly moved. And ashamed. I doubt very much that I would have been as brave. A horrifying admission.

L-girl said...

My parents had not discussed the Holocaust with me, and so the Diary was my introduction to it.

OMG OMG. I cannot imagine such a thing. No wonder you felt betrayed.

I was inundated with Holocaust (and other Jewish persecution, such as pogroms) education throughout my young life, both at home and in Hebrew school.

I found it very worthwhile reading the new version of The Diary, and also reading it as an adult was so different. It was more heartbreaking than ever.

Have you read the book about Miep? I read that when it came out and was once again greatly moved. And ashamed. I doubt very much that I would have been as brave. A horrifying admission.

Not horrifying, merely honest. But we never know what we would do until we get there.

I haven't read it - I should. I love to read stories of personal moral courage. I have this sense that getting in touch with other people's courageous moral choices strengthens my own resolve should it ever be called into question. That's one reason I am active with war resisters. Thanks for reminding me of her book.

Of course, in those specific circumstances, you and I would have been the hunted, not the courageous helpers. And that's at the core for a Jewish person reading that book. (Obvious, I know, but worth saying.)

L-girl said...

Ack, I had her name misspelled in the title of the post (spelled correctly in the post itself). Corrected now, but wrong for hours!

Amy said...

My parents had (probably still have) some strange views on children and childhood. They did not think children should have to face the ugliness and realities of adult life: money, hatred, war, sex, etc. Of course, it was impossible to shelter us from all those things, and it made it harder to talk to them about them and ask about them. But I believe they wanted us to be innocent for as long as possible.

Also, they did not believe in religion, so I had no real Jewish education until I asked for it at some point, and then they sent me to a non-religious program about Jewish history. We never got to the Holocaust.

I have more than made up for it since adolescence, having done lots of reading, classes, etc., about Jewish history. And we did not raise our kids the same way, but we also did not make the Holocaust or persecution the key point in their Jewish education.

L-girl said...

I've caught a few glimpses of your parents' attitudes. Like many people (myself included in many ways), your choices seem in some sense an opposite reaction to their choices.

Re your parents' overly rosy picture, my mother has a similar attitude now. I refer to her as The Queen of Denial. Anything negative is not discussed. Life is all good, all the time, and if it's not, I don't want to hear about it.

Of course, she's nearing 80 years old, she's seen her share of sorrows and insanity, but she prefers to pretend otherwise.

It can make honest communication difficult!

deang said...

Anything negative is not discussed. Life is all good, all the time, and if it's not, I don't want to hear about it.

Speaking of that, have you read Barbara Ehrenreich's latest, Bright-Sided, about the plague of delusional positive thinking in the US? I know you have a long reading list, but that is a book I would love to read your comments on. No time, I know, but just planting seeds ...

L-girl said...

Dean, I heard Ehrenreich speaking about the book and was immediately interested. When a close friend of mine had breast cancer some years back, she expressed similar thoughts. I definitely want to read it. And naturally I thought of my mother!

I think the #1 thing I dislike about being in school is all the books I am not reading. Between terms I am going to pick books from my ridiculously long list, but the number of books I will read in these years will be very limited. Boo.

Amy said...

The odd thing about my parents is that their attitudes changed dramatically once we reached adolescence. They taught me about civil rights and why racism was wrong. They were the ones who taught me that war, the Vietnam War specifically, was wrong and took me to anti-war rallies and concerts. They were very open to discussing ethics, values, politics and world affairs. (On the other hand, money and sex remained no-nos for a long time!)

We were and are more open with our kids on all those issues and generally. Perhaps a reaction to my upbringing, perhaps also a generational thing.

At 80, your mother is entitled to a huge dose of denial. They say a positive attitude aids good health and a long life, so more power to her. But I know what you mean about difficulties in communications.

L-girl said...

At 80, your mother is entitled to a huge dose of denial. They say a positive attitude aids good health and a long life, so more power to her.

My mother's denial is not new to her age - she's been like this my entire life, and most likely much longer. It may have its advantages to her, but it also has disadvantages to her mental health. It's very hard to get past painful times when you won't even acknowledge their existence, won't ever deal with your feelings.

Ah well, everyone's got their way of getting through life.

My observations on reacting to your parents wasn't about your childraising, more some general stuff I picked up - and I could be completely off!

Amy said...

I agree that denial can be unhealthy, although for some people it does seem to work. We are all made differently. (It would not work for me, but my mother is a bit like yours that way. It does make it hard to deal with reality, but for her it seems like a survival mechanism.)

One wonders, for example, whether denial in part kept Anne Frank and her family going in circumstances that must have seemed hopeless. Sometimes people do need to block out the bad stuff just to get through the day.

On the other hand, perhaps too much denial is why so many Jews did not leave Europe when Hitler took power and began his persecution of Jews.

(As I try to steer this back to the topic at hand!)

johngoldfine said...

In defense of Amy's parents, if defense they need: the world did not wake suddenly in the Spring of 1945 and realize that the Holocaust had occurred.

Certainly there was common knowledge about the death camps (newsreels, Bourke White's Buchenwald photos and so on), but as a subject for serious inquiry and speculation and research, a decade and more had to pass. For scholarship to become the stuff of lessons for school kids, even longer. The actual word and general idea of Holocaust (as opposed to mere depravity, crimes against humanity, and atrocities) really was not available to my parents (and perhaps Amy's) when I was growing up.

Perhaps it was squeamishness and denial on my part, but the more I knew about the Holocaust, the less likely it ever seemed as a topic to discuss with my own children.

What could I possibly have told children about something I need all my adult resources to understand even a little?

Amy said...

Interesting point, John. I hadn't really thought about that. My kids grew up in a world where there was Schindler's List, A Beautiful Life, Shoah, and a host of books about the Holocaust. I did not. Perhaps Anne Frank's diary was the first thing I remember reading about the Holocaust because it WAS the only thing available for an eleven or twelve year old to read at that time.

And maybe my parents had no other resources before then to try and convey the horror of what Hitler and the Nazis did.

L-girl said...

I don't think the Franks were in denial. How could they have been, living in hiding as they were?

We all use coping mechanisms. They're definitely a necessary part of life. I, for example, am Ms Rationalization. You ever need a rationalization for anything, come to me, I'll hook you up. :)

I think it's when a person relies on these mechanisms to a degree that hurts their life that it's unhealthy (like anything else).

I see my mom carry around a lot of anger and pain. She's afraid to let it out. I understand that. We think it will overwhelm us. But usually when we let it out, it feels better afterwards and we can move on. But she never takes that step.

I wish she would... but I'm not her therapist. I don't try to push her. And of course she won't go to therapy because EVERYTHING IS WONDERFUL! :)

L-girl said...

I definitely don't think Amy's parents need defending. I could have used a little less Holocaust education in my young life. I've written about this before - coming home from Hebrew school sick and depressed from the films we saw. I had nightmares. It was really too heavy for my age and my sensitivity.

Dean, we talked about this in relation to your reaction learning about certain torture practices the US was involved with... maybe in Guatemala, not sure. (There are so many to choose from.)

deang said...

Yes, it was Guatemala mostly. Also Chile and Argentina. Learning about medical tortures in those countries made it hard for me to go to doctors and dentists for a while. And I was an adult.

I also know of a woman who went into a grad program in Latin American Studies but had to change majors because knowledge of the torture-dictatorships had given her nightmares, even though she had never experienced trauma personally (as far as I know). She asked that no one even mention Latin American Studies around her thereafter. Sounds extreme, but when I merely asked her why she'd switched majors, she would begin to look nauseated and afraid.

L-girl said...

Therapists can get PTSD from listening to trauma, or a condition that's kind of the opposite - a flatness of affect, inability to feel emotion at all. So surely your acquaintance "caught" (so to speak) some post-trauma symptoms from studying torture.

In Hebrew school, we learned that this terrible stuff happened to Jews. I very much identified myself as a Jewish child. So how could it not be scary?

And I had so many fears as a child. For a while this became part of it.

Amy said...

I think the Franks were in denial, or at least Anne was, with respect to their chances of survival. I have no idea what the adults were thinking, but Anne's diary certainly suggests that she was hoping for a regular life after the war.

And I certainly cannot determine whether your mother's denial is healthy or not. I am in no position to judge that, obviously. My only point was that for some people in some circumstances, denial can be a helpful coping mechanism.

As for my parents, I think like many parents, they were doing the best they could to raise children in a scary and dangerous world. Although some exposure to the ugliness of the world is a good thing, I agree that overdoing it can be harmful and oppressive to children. When I look at happy toddlers, acting like the world is a wonderful and loving place where everyone is kind and gentle, I always hope that they can keep that sense of wonder and innocence for as long as possible. It provides a good cushion when the realities of the world come creeping in.

As for the Holocaust specifically, I think Jews used it for too long as a means of rationalizing why it is important to be Jewish. I much prefer to teach my children from a positive perspective, that is, that there are things that are meaningful and moving about Judaism itself and that maintaining those traditions is not about revenge on Hitler, but about the inherent value of those traditions and values.

L-girl said...

That's nice, I like that.

Genocides definitely become part of an ethnic or national identity. Many cultures have it. It's strange how it plays out through the generations.

I'm not sure having hope is the same as being in denial. But certainly, whatever it was must have helped the Franks cope.

L-girl said...

Also, I didn't think you were judging one way or another - I was just discussing, not refuting.

Amy said...

I just didn't want you to think I was disputing your view of your own mother!

And perhaps it is with the benefit of hindsight that I am suggesting the Franks were in denial. We all know what was happening around them and what the Nazis' ultimate goal was, but they may have been sufficiently insulated from that news that they might have realistically hoped that once the war was over, they could simply go back to their lives. It would be more like denial if they knew that the odds were very small that they would in fact survive.

L-girl said...

Oh my, I never would have thought that! But now I see what you meant. :)

redsock said...

Since I dropped a Hannah and Her Sisters quote into the current top post, I'll put another one here:

"You missed a very dull TV show on Auschwitz. More gruesome film clips, and more puzzled intellectuals declaring their mystification over the systematic murder of millions. The reason they can never answer the question 'How could it possibly happen?' is that it's the wrong question. Given what people are, the question is 'Why doesn't it happen more often?'"

L-girl said...

Wow, I didn't remember that. I certainly remember "never stop throwing up"!

Amy said...

No wonder Woody Allen is depressed with that view of human nature. Although I am well aware of our capacity for evil, I still believe, as Anne said, that people are basically good. Denial? Hope?

L-girl said...

That's not Woody Allen speaking. It's a character, a persona.

The "humans are basically good" or "basically evil" conception makes little sense to me. Humans have the capacity for tremendous good and tremendous evil. There's no one thing that people are.

Amy said...

Yeah, but Woody Allen wrote that, no?

And yes, of course, it's an oversimplification, but I just have a somewhat rosier view of people generally and individually than that expressed by that character/persona/author. Call me naive.

L-girl said...

He wrote it, yes, but it's not him expressing his own thoughts or feelings. His characters say lots of things from many different perspectives, some of them very optimistic and hopeful. The depressed curmudgeon is a character he's created, not him.

Amy said...

Given the general outlook of most of his work, especially his later work, I have a hunch (I don't know him personally) that that view is not far from his own views of human nature.

L-girl said...

Well, that's what you're supposed to think. But I always feel obligated to caution against confusing author with fiction. Woody Allen the character, everyone knows. Woody Allen the person gives very little away.

L-girl said...

Remember, in a huge number of his film, love saves the day. Love equals salvation.

Amy said...

I agree---authors should not be confused with their characters, but when a body of work indicates a particular point of view, it seems reasonable to infer that that is the author's own point of view.

Woody Allen may believe that love saves the day, but his characters rarely seem to find a lasting love. Something in human beings always seems to corrupt that love, whether it is jealousy, lust, dishonesty, depression, boredom, or some other cause. My memory is fuzzy (shocking,huh?), but I cannot remember one movie where his characters end up happily in love. No Hollywood endings that I can recall!

L-girl said...

My memory is fuzzy (shocking,huh?), but I cannot remember one movie where his characters end up happily in love. No Hollywood endings that I can recall!

There are many, actually. His most recent film, "Whatever Works," is an absolute fairytale of love and salvation, as was "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" in many ways. The recent run of comedies is full of wonderfully lasting love, too.

But also, I think Allen argues for "love is all" and "love brings salvation" no matter how that love changes or how long it lasts. I think those films use a different yardstick to measure a relationship, rather than the Hollywood ending. Those endings are generally boring and he's usually going for something more subtle and meaningful (IMO).

Amy said...

OK, I need to see those two films ("Whatever Works" is one I don't even remember coming out, and somehow we missed "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" before it disappeared from theaters and our memories.) And I see your (his?) point---love is all, for as long as it may last. For a sap like me, it's still sad that it always seems to end---both in his films and too often in life.

L-girl said...

The movie Allan was originally quoting from, "Hannah and Her Sisters" is a terrific romance and love story.

I loved Whatever Works, but it's really for Allen fans only. It works as a fairy tale, but it also works as a tongue-in-cheek view of Allen movies in general. A bit of a self-spoof.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is great. Just a great movie. Hmm, this makes me want to see it again.

L-girl said...

My take on Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Amy said...

I remember Hannah and Her Sisters, but not in any detail. I remember that it was the first Woody Allen movie I enjoyed after a series of movies I had not really liked much (Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, and Purple Rose of Cairo, in particular, left me cold. I missed a bunch also, as I look over the list of his films). And I remember that Alan Alda played against his usual type. But as with baseball games and books, details have just evaporated from my memory.

L-girl said...

I really liked both Broadway Danny Rose and Purple Rose of Cairo, but Hannah & Her Sisters is much better than either of those. Definitely worth re-seeing.

Amy said...

First I have to see all the movies I have NOT seen before I can back and see those I saw (though I am starting to re-read some books I had read and enjoyed and forgotten too much about). And that list is already too long. Sigh.

Off to class---a new semester begins for me today.

L-girl said...

Many movies are worth seeing more than once!

New semester starting so late? Good luck and enjoy.