Gies, Miep (1909—)
Gies, Miep (1909—)
Austrian-born Dutch hero who aided Anne Frank and her family while they were in hiding. Name variations: Miep Van Santen in Anne Frank's original diary. Born Hermine Santrouschitz in Vienna, Austria, in February 1909; adopted by the Nieuwenhuises; married Jan Gies (known as Henk in the diaries), on July 16, 1941 (died 1993).
Known as Miep Van Santen in Anne Frank 's diary, Miep Gies introduces her book Anne Frank Remembered with a disclaimer: "I am not a hero. I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did or more—much more—during those dark and terrible times.… Times the like of which I hope with all my heart will never, never come again. It is for all of us ordinary people all over the world to see to it that they do not."
Born Hermine Santrouschitz in Vienna, Austria, in 1909, Gies was five when she eagerly ran beside a parade of men and horses as World War I marched into her city along with the Germans. By war's end, she was severely undernourished, and her parents were warned that she might die. In December 1920, under the auspices of a workers' program, 11-year-old Gies was name-tagged, along with scores of other children, and shipped off to an unknown family in the Netherlands, where there were no food shortages, to be brought back to health.
When she arrived at the train station of Leiden, recalls Gies, a strong man spoke to her in a foreign language, then took her hand, walked her through town in the moonlight, and they arrived at a house where a woman with "soft eyes" greeted her, while four boys peeped from above stairs. The woman gave Gies a glass of milk and took her into a small room with two beds. There was another girl her age in the other bed. "The woman took off all my layers of clothes," wrote Gies, "removed the bow from my hair, and put me between the covers in the center of the other bed. Warmth enfolded me. My eyelids dropped shut. Immediately, I was asleep. I will never forget that journey."
Gies was sent to school to learn Dutch, and her schoolmates eagerly offered their guidance. By January's end, she spoke a few words in Dutch; by May, she was the best in the class. Originally her stay was to be three months, but she was still weak, and the doctors repeatedly recommended three-month extensions. Her adoptive family, the Nieuwenhuises, began to see her as their own and gave her the nickname Miep.
When Gies was 13, the Nieuwenhuises moved to South Amsterdam. Though at age 16 she revisited her actual family in Vienna, all agreed that she was now acclimatized and more Dutch than Austrian, so she remained with her adoptive parents. In 1933, after a two-week tryout making jam from fruit and pectin in the company kitchen of Opekta, 24-year-old Gies was hired by a man named Otto Frank to type, keep the books, answer telephone questions from his homemaker customers, and sell kits for making jam.
In 1938, when Gies applied to renew her Austrian passport, she was handed a German passport bearing the Nazi swastika. The Germans were now the occupiers of Austria, and Miep had become a German citizen. Soon, a Dutch Nazi sympathizer arrived at her door and invited her to join the Nazi Girls' Club. Miep brushed aside the invitation, complained of Germany's handling of Jews, and the woman retreated in anger. When the Germans conquered Holland in the spring of 1940, Gies was summoned before them. To her horror, they invalidated her passport and told her that she must return to Vienna within three months' time. They then asked if it was true that she had declined to join the Nazi Girls' Club; Miep admitted it was.
For Gies, there was only one solution. In order to stay in the Netherlands, she had to become a Dutch citizen: she had to somehow obtain her birth certificate from Vienna and marry her boyfriend Jan Gies within the three-month timeframe. After a hair-raising attempt to keep the German bureaucracy ignorant of her invalidated passport while obtaining a marriage license, the couple married on July 16, 1941. Anne Frank and her father Otto were in attendance.
One year later, at considerable danger to themselves, Miep and Jan were helping their friends the Franks to become onderduikers (Dutch for "dives under" or goes into hiding) in the Secret Annex. One evening, Anne begged Miep and Jan to stay the night. Wrote Gies: "All through the night I heard each ringing of the Westertoren clock. I never slept; I couldn't close my eyes. I heard the sound of a rainstorm begin, the wind come up. The quietness of the place was overwhelming. The fright of these people who were locked up here was so thick I could feel it pressing down on me. It was like a thread of terror pulled taut. It was so terrible it never let me close my eyes. For the first time I knew what it was like to be a Jew in hiding."
Following the publication of Anne Frank's diary, Gies became a frequent speaker, begging for tolerance—tolerance for everyone. When Connecticut College bestowed an honorary doctorate on her in 1996, she wrote the college thanking them for the honor but claiming she was not heroic. It was Anne that was heroic, she said. Besides, at the end of the war, said Gies, she hated the Germans. At one point, she lashed out at German tourists who were visiting the Annex. She learned later that these German tourists had been imprisoned in a concentration camp for opposing Hitler.
Gies, Miep, with Alison Leslie Gold. Anne Frank Remembered. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1987.