Throughout history women have made their mark in a wide variety of ways. Each Saturday I plan to highlight one of these remarkable women. There will be no limit to the areas of history that I may include; however as a guide I will look to the month of their birth, the month of their death or the month associated with their mark in history when I select them. Is there an outstanding women in history you would like me to include? I welcome your suggestions. Would you like to guest blog one of the world’s outstanding women? Let me hear from you.
Today an outstanding woman famous for her humanitarian acts . Meet Miep Gies.
Permanent remorse about failing to do your human duty, in my opinion,can be worse than losing your life.— Miep Gies
Miep Gies was born on February 15, 1909, in Vienna to Austrian parents, but because of illness and impoverishment, she was sent to the Netherlands for care and bonded with her foster family. She married a Dutch man and worked for Otto Frank, becoming close with his family. She, along with several colleagues, hid the Franks in a secret annex to the office for more than two years before their discovery by the Gestapo. She rescued Anne Frank’s diaries and later returned them to Otto Frank, the sole survivor of his family. He had them published. Gies recorded her own memoir of the time in 1987 and died on January 11, 2010, at age 100.
Born Hermine Santruschitz (Santrouschitz in Dutch) on February 15, 1909, in Vienna, Austria, the second daughter of working-class Austrian parents. At the time of World War I, the economy was poor with little work and food shortages. Hermine was accepted into a Dutch program for malnourished children. In December 1920, she was placed with the Nieuwenburg family in Leiden to help regain her strength and health. The family nicknamed her Miep. Although the children in the program normally stayed with the foster families for only three months, Miep stayed longer and moved with them to Amsterdam. She did go back to see her family in Vienna when she was 16, but she was afraid she would not be permitted to go back to Amsterdam. Her family accepted her wish to go back and she did.
Adulthood and Working
At age 18, Miep was finished her schooling and went to work in the office of a textile company. She continued to work there was 24 years old, when she was laid off due to the Great Depression. Several months unemployed, she heard of a position at Nederlandsche Opekta, a company that provided ingredients for making jam. She interviewed with Otto Frank. Otto Frank had fled Germany with his family and his business had fled Germany due to Nazi oppression. The Frank family were Jewish. Miep passed her jam-making test and began working for him.
Miep and her boyfriend, Jan Gies, couldn’t afford to get married. In 1940, they finally found housing, but when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, Miep was ordered to return to her native Vienna. When Miep sensed the threat, she wrote a letter to Queen Wilhelmina in 1939 in an attempt to attain Dutch nationality. Due to a lucky connection of her uncle’s in the Viennese civil service, Miep was able to get her birth certificate in the requisite time. She married Jan Gies on July 16, 1941. Otto Frank and his family, including his daughter Anne, attended.
A Humanitarian Act
In June 1942, the situation for Jewish people was worsening. The Franks decided to go into hiding in the secret annex of their office building. Along with a select few others, Miep agreed to be involved. Her role was to bring them food. She did this by gathering from different grocers to not draw attention to the amount she was gathering. Illegal ration cards her husband had procured as part of the Dutch resistance were used. Miep and her colleagues also kept the business afloat, providing income and making the building a low-profile hub of activity.
She and her co-workers were able to keep the family hidden for over two years, but eventually they were betrayed. The annex was raided by the Nazis on August 4, 1944, and the occupants were sent to concentration camps. Miep found Anne Frank’s diaries and put them away for the family’s return. Only Otto Frank returned as the world knows what happened to millions of Jewish people in the hands of the Nazis. Miep gave Otto Frank Anne’s diaries. Read my other posts about Anne Frank and the diary here and here.
Otto continued to live with the Gieses until 1953. Miep and Jan had a son, Paul.
Although Anne’s diaries had been published in 1947, Miep had never read them, but Otto finally persuaded her to do so in their second printing.
“Though I wept a lot, I kept thinking: ‘Anne, you gave me one of the finest presents I ever got.'”
— Miep Gies