Miep Gies: Office secretary who helped to hide the Frank family from the Nazis before rescuing Anne's diary

Going underground or into hiding has become as routine as the proverbial pipe and slippers that used to await the man of the house after a long day at work." So wrote 14-year-old Anne Frank in her diary in January 1944 during 25 months' refuge in a "Secret Annex". This was on the other side of a door hidden by a bookcase in the Amsterdam office of the spice-dealers Opekta, to which her father, Otto, had previously travelled from home to deal in spices. Crowded together, resolutely silent by day, were two families, along with a later arrival, a dentist, Fritz Pfeffer, a friend of Miep Gies. Gies, two decades older than Anne, has died at 100 – six decades after events which she would remember on every subsequent day of her life.

In that same diary entry, Anne noted, "it's amazing how much these generous and unselfish people do, risking their own lives to help and save others. The best example of this is our own helpers, who have managed to pull us through so far and will we hope bring us safely to shore, because otherwise they'll find themselves sharing the fate of those they're trying to protect." The success of the annexe depended upon the continued existence of an office whose staff gave the impression that the Franks were in Switzerland.

What's more, not all of them were aware of life behind the bookcase, which, come the evening, Gies would pull aside to deliver the provisions that, by dint of silent understanding among various shopkeepers, she unobtrusively ferried by bike across the city.

All of this could easily have been one more tale of unknown heroism, especially as Gies only began to speak of it later in her life, but – after the terrible treachery which brought the Gestapo to the annexe in August 1944 – she had presciently gathered papers scattered over the floor: the diary to which Anne had embarrassedly confessed to writing when Gies saw her hunched over a notebook ("it was a look of dark concentration, as if she had a throbbing headache").

Without Gies, the diary would have gone the way of its author, who, with her sister, died from typhus in Belsen soon after their mother's end in Auschwitz. Born in Vienna in 1909 as Hermine Santrouschitz, Miep herself understood what it was to be a displaced person. One of many children who suffered malnutrition during the Great War, her kneecaps were bony and her teeth soft. In December 1920, with the prospect of another cold Viennese winter potentially fatal, she joined a crowd of children bound for restorative Holland.

"A card was hung round my neck. On it was printed a strange name, the name of people I had never met." She was meant to stay for three months, but her health was still poor; with her mother's blessing, she stayed on with her adoptive family, who duly moved to Amsterdam. "My sensibilities were Dutch," she said of her formative years in the Netherlands, "the quality of my feelings also Dutch." It was here that she also picked up the nickname "Miep".

As a teenager she kept a notebook, "in secret, for myself only, not for discussion. I had a deep longing for an understanding of life." Technically still Austrian, she remained in Holland, where in 1933 she was without work until a neighbour put her in touch with a spice firm, whose director was the German émigré Otto Frank. "His dark eyes held mine, and I felt immediately his kind and gentle nature, stiffened somewhat by shyness and a slightly nervous demeanour." One of her first tasks was to set to work on jam-making. This was in order to tell complaining Dutch housewives where they were going wrong in using the firm's pectin as a swift-working ingredient.

She and Frank had a rapport, shared interests, and soon she met his family, including his four-year-old daughter: "her dark, shining, alert large eyes, which dominated her delicate face, were drinking in everything around her." Miep's marriage to Jan Gies in 1941 was a close-run thing: her passport had been cancelled and her birth certificate proved almost elusive.

This was but one of many dramas. Summary can do scant justice either to Anne's diary or – its equal – Gies' 1987 memoir, Anne Frank Remembered, which revealed much unknown to the Franks, including her and Jan's also hiding in their own home a young man rash enough to leave it at times (Jan worked in the Resistance). Especially memorable is a first wedding anniversary dinner in the annexe, where she later spent a night: "I never slept; I couldn't close my eyes... the fright of these people who were locked up in here was so thick I could feel it pressing down on me. It was like a thread of terror pulled taut."

She never wanted to suspect a particular traitor, but Carol Ann Lee's biography (2003) of Otto makes a persuasive case that it was a lowlife, Tonny Ahlers, who had been blackmailing Otto over supplies of goods to the German army. Otto's life changed with the diary, which he duly read after Gies gave it to him on his return from Auschwitz. It took Gies some while longer to read a work which, to suit a publisher's format, Otto abridged effectively enough for it to sell millions, little by little, and appear on stage and screen. A brilliant work, as described by Oscar Wilde in another context, "simply a very young girl's record of her own thoughts and impressions, and consequently meant for publication." In preparing a second version, before capture, Anne set aside such entries as a description of her vagina. The complete version, published in 1991, is all the more remarkable.

Gies, of course, would have infinitely preferred to have succeeded in bringing the family back. (She herself had almost been captured but was saved by the fact that the German recognised that she shared his Viennese accent.) She even visited Gestapo headquarters in the hope of buying them off; no dice; she was amazed to leave the building alive.

She herself felt blessed, at almost 40, to become pregnant; post-war life was happily quiet and she claimed to be no hero. But she most certainly was, and we can be thankful that, in time, she wrote a book which brought her many invitations to describe that unthinkable time.

Christopher Hawtree

I was privileged to have met Miep on several occasions in the 1990s both at the Anne Frank House and when she came to Anne Frank Trust events in London, writes Gillian Walnes, executive director of the Anne Frank Trust. In conversations we had, she never saw herself as heroic, but simply doing what she saw as her duty to help other human beings. As well as looking after all eight people in hiding above Otto Frank's office, Miep and her equally heroic husband, Jan Gies, were also hiding – in their own home – a young Dutch man who had refused to join the Nazi party. Can you even begin to imagine the pressure she was under in acquiring food for all those people for more than two years without arousing suspicions?

When the Frank family were arrested in August 1944 Miep broke the lock and rescued Anne's diary, not for publication but to give back to Anne, in the hope she may survive the camps. She also bravely went to Gestapo HQ to try to buy the Frank family's freedom, but sadly this was not possible.

I was lucky enough to visit Miep in her home once and she showed me items that Anne had actually written about in her diary. One particular memory I will always treasure is attending the 1996 Oscars ceremony in Hollywood for the documentary feature Anne Frank Remembered (coincidentally shown on the BBC on Tuesday evening, the night of Miep's death). Travelling down in the limousine to the ceremony and seeing the iconic Hollywood sign, I leaned forward to Miep and, knowing how much Anne Frank had loved movie stars, asked her, "What would Anne have said if she knew you were in Hollywood?" Miep simply sighed and shook her head.

Last year the Anne Frank Trust dedicated an Anne Frank Award in Miep's honour, which was presented at the House of Commons to a remarkable Kent teenager, Nicole Dryburgh. The Anne Frank Trust will ensure that Miep Gies' story will continue to be an inspirational force for good.

Miep Gies (Hermine Santrouschitz): born Vienna 15 February 1909; married 1941 Jan Gies (died 1993, one son); died Netherlands 11 January 2010.

Suggested Topics
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears