UPDATE: Fellow Massachusetts transplant Jack Crane offered the following comment:
Thanks for the Miep Gies remembrance Jeff. Are you familiar with Corrie ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place, another extraordinary story of a devout Christian Dutch family that risked their lives to hide their Jewish neighbors. Corrie survived Ravensbruck, her sister Betsy died there. One of my fondest parts of the story was Corrie’s Dad (who owned a watch shop) going off to Amsterdam to meet with the Jewish watch wholesaler. They would talk business for a few minutes and then go in the back room, pull out their respective bibles, and open their hearts to to the “real” business of God’s mysterious presence in our lives. Mr. ten Boom would eventually put a yellow star on his jacket in solidarity with his Jewish friends. He died in the Scheveningen prison. Another amazing story you are probably familiar with is the village of Le Chambon in southern France, particularly the leadership of the local pastor, Andre Trocme. Phillip Hallie, originally very skeptical of the story, wrote a good book (Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed) about how this village of a 1000 or so Christians, saved a 1000 or so Jews. There is also an excellent documentary by Pierre Sauvage (a French-Canadian Jew), who went back to Le Chambon as an adult to visit the villagers who had rescued his parents and him when he was a baby. I have a copy of the film if you want to borrow it – it may be out of production.
Gies found the diary by Anne Frank that her father Otto edited and that for decades was many people’s introduction to the Holocaust. Told through the eyes of a maturing young woman, the story of the German Jewish family’s ultimately doomed efforts to survive the war has touched millions since its initial publication more than a half-century ago.
Gies appears in a film, Remembering Anne Frank, which extends beyond the diary’s end to her family’s being deported after having been turned in by a neighbor. She died of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen death camp after suffering greatly. Venerated literary scholar Lawrence Langer wondered if she would have repeated her oft-quoted sentiment shortly before her death about people being essentially good at heart.
Gies’ heroic actions and Frank’s diary have led to the false impression that Holland was a supportive nation for Jews during World War II. In fact, about 75 percent of Dutch Jews were murdered, the second highest percentage in Europe after Poland. Westerbork was the site where many of the Dutch Jews were killed.
These facts only make Gies’ choices that much more courageous, and also makes judgment more possible of those who sat by or participated in the destruction.
We honor Gies for her honorable life.