Everyone knows the name Anne Frank. Most recognize or have read the diary she wrote in hiding during World War II. However, the name Miep Gies may not be quite as familiar. The brave and equally humble woman who hid Anne Frank in her home and later published her journal died in a nursing home Monday night as a result of a fall last month; she was 100 years old.
While Anne Frank’s diary serves as a heartwrenching and honest reminder of the horrors of World War II, Gies stands for the bravery and selflessness shown by those who dared to defy the oppressors in such a hopeless time. The risk of hiding Jews was enough to keep many in fear and submission; yet she took not one person but an entire family in her home.
In her memoir published in 1987, Gies insisted what she did was what many others had done at the time, refusing to receive glory for her act of selflessness.
“I am not a hero,” she wrote in Anne Frank Remembered. “I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did and more – much more – during those dark and terrible times years ago – ”
I didn’t really think about what this statement meant when I first read of Gies’ death in the news. I read Anne Frank’s diary twice when I was younger, fascinated and saddened by her secret life in the annex; by the constant terror her family lived in; by Anne’s innocence and teenage reflections. However, I never really considered what bravery and constant sacrifice it took for anyone to act in defiance to Hitler’s ruthless power by making their home a haven for harbored Jews.
To say what Gies did was nothing remarkable is to say others would do the same – and many did during. But the bravery of those selfless few makes me wonder what I would have done in their position. Would I throw away my safety and possibly my future for the lives of a few people out of millions who would inevitably die?
I may never have to make such a momentous decision. However, Gies’ life may still be an inspiration to me just the same. It is the actions of people such as this woman, whose life and heart were dedicated to helping others, which provide an example for us in even the smallest situations.
None of us will probably ever harbor a Jew in our home, but we may still learn from those who refused to let fear keep them from doing what was right. Gies’ death is something for our world to grieve, as a person of such honor and as one of the remaining few who remember such a significant time in history. But it is her life that may motivate and inspire us to love those who are hated and give without any desire of receiving something back.