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Miep Gies, 100; helped hide Franks, found Anne’s diary

Miep Gies, front row left, is shown next to Otto Frank. Other helpers of the Franks were: Bep Voskuijl, front row right, Johannes Kleiman, top left, and Victor Kugler. Miep Gies, front row left, is shown next to Otto Frank. Other helpers of the Franks were: Bep Voskuijl, front row right, Johannes Kleiman, top left, and Victor Kugler. (Anne Frank House via Associated Press/File 1945)
By Arthur Max
Associated Press / January 12, 2010

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AMSTERDAM - Miep Gies, the office secretary who defied the Nazi occupiers to hide Anne Frank and her family for two years and saved the teenager’s diary, has died, the Anne Frank Museum said yesterday. She was 100.

The British Broadcasting Corp. said she died in a nursing home yesterday after suffering a fall last month.

Mrs. Gies was the last of the few supporters who supplied food, books, and good cheer to the secret annex behind the canal warehouse where Anne, her parents, sister, and four other Jews hid for 25 months during World War II.

After the apartment was raided by the German police, Mrs. Gies gathered up Anne’s scattered notebooks and papers and locked them in a drawer for her return after the war. The diary, which Anne Frank was given on her 13th birthday, chronicles her life in hiding from June 12, 1942, until Aug. 1, 1944.

Mrs. Gies refused to read the papers, saying even a teenager’s privacy was sacred. Later, she said that if she had read them, she would have had to burn them because they incriminated the “helpers.’’

Anne Frank died of typhus at age 15 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945, two weeks before the camp was liberated. Mrs. Gies gave the diary to Anne’s father, Otto, the only survivor of the group. He published it in 1947.

After the diary was published, Mrs. Gies tirelessly promoted causes of tolerance. She brushed aside the accolades for helping hide the Frank family as more than she deserved, as if, she said, she had 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 days before her 100th birthday last February.

“The Diary of Anne Frank’’ was the first popular book about the Holocaust; it has been read by millions around the world in 65 languages.

For her courage, Mrs. Gies was bestowed with the title of Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Israel. She has also been honored by the German government and the Dutch monarchy.

Nevertheless, Mrs. Gies resisted being made a character study of heroism for the young.

“I don’t want to be considered a hero,’’ she said in a 1997 online chat with schoolchildren.

“Imagine young people would grow up with the feeling that you have to be a hero to do your human duty. I am afraid nobody would ever help other people, because who is a hero? I was not. I was just an ordinary housewife and secretary.’’

Born Hermine Santrouschitz in Vienna, she moved to Amsterdam in 1922 to escape food shortages in Austria. A host family gave her the nickname Miep.

In 1933, she took a job as an office assistant in the spice business of Otto Frank. After refusing to join a Nazi organization in 1941, she avoided deportation to Austria by marrying her Dutch boyfriend, Jan Gies.

As the Nazis increased their arrests of Dutch Jews, Otto Frank asked Mrs. Gies in July 1942 to help hide his family in the annex above the company’s warehouse on Prinsengracht 263 and to bring them food and supplies.

“I answered, ‘Yes, of course,’ ’’ she said later. “It seemed perfectly natural to me. I could help these people. They were powerless; they didn’t know where to turn.’’

Jan and Miep Gies worked with four other employees in the firm to sustain the Franks and four other Jews sharing the annex. Jan secured extra food ration cards from the underground resistance. Miep cycled around the city, alternating grocers to ward off suspicions from this highly dangerous activity.

Touched by Anne’s precocious intelligence and loneliness, Mrs. Gies brought Anne books while remembering everybody’s birthdays and special days with gifts. “It seems as if we are never far from Miep’s thoughts,’’ Anne wrote.

In her own book, “Anne Frank Remembered,’’ Mrs. Gies recalled being in the office when the German police, acting on a tip that historians have failed to trace, raided the hideout.

A policeman opened the door to the main office and pointed a revolver at the three employees, telling them to sit quietly. After the arrests, she went to the police to offer a bribe for the Franks’ release, but it was too late.

Around 140,000 Jews lived in the Netherlands before the 1940-45 Nazi occupation. Of those, 107,000 were deported to Germany; only 5,200 survived.