Frank Family in hiding listens to BBC Radio on D-Day
by Judith Stanford Miller, M.Ed., M.A.
In the first sentence in the Prologue of Anne Frank Remembered by Miep Gies and Alison Leslie Gold, Miep tells readers she does not want to be considered a hero. She reiterated that thought during interviews in the ensuing years after her book was published in 1987. In Nazi occupied Holland during World War II, more than 20,000 Dutch citizens provided hiding places and sustenance for their Jewish friends. Miep and her husband hid the Frank family of four and four friends in an annex to Otto Frank’s office.
Miep’s role as the main scavenger for ample quantities of food and the primary conduit to the outside world for Otto, Edith, Anne, Margot Frank and four of their friends while they were in hiding for 25 months was to be expected, nothing more, Miep articulates throughout her book and during interviews after it was published.
Hermine Santrouschitz becomes Miep Gies
Miep was born in 1909 in Vienna, Austria. Her birth name was Hermine Santrouschitz. As a child, she was sent to live in Amsterdam.
In 1920, just two years after World War I had ended, Europe was still struggling to recover from the devastation wrought by war. Food was scarce in Austria. Hermine was a small and sickly child. She, along with many other children, were sent to the Netherlands and placed with families who would care for them. The Netherlands had remained neutral during World War I so it was a more suitable environment for children than war-torn Austria, France, Germany, or Belgium.
Hermine was sent to Amsterdam, Holland and placed with a Dutch family, the Nieuwenhuises. Because of her diminutive stature, her family gave her the nickname, Miep. She was to live with them for three months. But 3 months extended to 6 six months and then to one year. Thriving in the culture and environment, she remained in Amsterdam and never lived in Austria again.
Miep meets Otto Frank
In her early 20s, she was able to find work as a secretary at Opekta, a business that sold spices and pectin used to make jam. On her first day of work, Otto Frank, her boss, took her to the kitchen, gave her a recipe, and told her to make jam. She had never cooked or baked since her family had provided all of her meals but she embraced the task with Word of the Day gusto. She quickly learned the nuances of getting jam to the right consistency.
After making jam perfectly for two weeks using many different types of fruit, Otto gave Miep a desk in the front office and said she would now be in charge of the company’s “Complaint and Information Desk.” Her job was to answer calls to help customers who were having trouble making jam with the company’s pectin product, a new product that was designed to speed up the jam making process.
The year was 1933, the year that began a lifelong friendship between Miep and the Frank family.
Otto Frank was born in Frankfort, part of the German Empire, in 1889. His family owned a bank and was a prominent Jewish family. Otto was well educated and had even spent time working at Macy’s in New York City. He fought for the German Empire during World War I.
1930s – Rise of Nazi Germany and World War II
But as Otto watched the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party to power in Germany in the early 1930s, he decided to first move his family to Aachen, Germany and then to Amsterdam in 1933 to avoid the increasing number of restrictions being placed on Jewish families. Some of his relatives were moving to the United States but Otto thought his family would be safe in Amsterdam since it had remained neutral during World War I.
Miep loved Amsterdam and her job with Otto Frank. She loved to dance and rode her bicycle at a fast clip all over the city. She began spending more time with Jan Gies, a social worker for the City whom she had met many years earlier at a job she had before working for Otto. “I found Henk [nickname given to Jan by Anne Frank] most attractive. His thick fair hair gleamed. His eyes were warm and full of life,” as Miep described him in her book. (p. 35)
In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands and the country quickly capitulated under the force of the German army. Miep describes the first two years of the occupation as relatively normal although more and more restrictions were being placed on Jewish Dutch citizens. Otto tried to obtain visas to move to the United States but was only able to obtain a visa for himself. In 1942, Margot Frank, Anne’s older sister, was ordered by the Nazis to report to a labor camp.
The Frank family goes into hiding (July 6, 1942)
Otto had been planning a last resort action so he was ready to go into hiding when Margot received her notice. On July 6, 1942, Miep took Margot from her home to the annex attached to Otto’s office building. The rest of the family followed. The annex had three floors with one bathroom. Boxes of supplies were in place. Another family and their son moved in with them. And eventually, a Jewish dentist who was married to a Christian woman moved in by himself to hide from the Nazis.
To show Miep’s spirit and deep moral convictions, she refused to stop going to the dentist after the German occupiers issued an order that non-Jewish Dutch citizens could no longer be treated by Jewish doctors and dentists. Miep arranged for the dentist to live with the Franks in the annex and she was the courier back and forth between the dentist and his wife who never knew where he was hiding.
For 25 months, Miep’s daily routine was to buy food for everyone. She and Henk were now married so she was daily feeding 10 people. She had to visit multiple stores so the amount of food she was purchasing did not raise suspicion. Milk was delivered to the office. The quantity did not raise suspicion because of the numerous office workers. As food became scarce as the war dragged on, she often had to ride her bicycle miles into the country in bitter cold to find food.
During this time, Henk began working for the Dutch Resistance, an underground network of Dutch citizens helping Jewish families by securing hiding places and food ration coupons. And the couple had agreed to hide a Christian Dutch citizen in their home. The young college student had refused to join the Nazi Youth group. He lived with them on and off throughout the occupation.
D-Day (June 6, 1944)
Those in hiding and members of the Dutch Resistance helping Dutch Jews hide and resist Nazi occupation had one lifeline to the outside world for information – BBC Radio. Everyone knew the Allies were planning an invasion in France but when and where would it occur?
Miep describes D-Day on p. 183 in her book:
“And then it happened. The landing had begun in Normandy. On June 6, early in the morning, the news came over the BBC. Henk and I now had no radio and knew nothing, but the moment I started on my way to work I could feel a buzz in the air, like electricity. People were animated as they hadn’t been in years. By the time I’d pedaled to the Prinsengracht, I too was glowing with the news. Mr. Koophius grabbed me by the arms and squeezed. ‘Yes, it’s true.’ And when I went up into the hiding place, it was as if an electric current were running through the place. Everyone was glued to the radio, waiting for more and more information. The American General Eisenhower was going to speak later.”
They discussed and debated how many days it would take Allied soldiers to reach Amsterdam. Tragically, the family was betrayed before the Allies could liberate Holland and western Europe.
Frank family is betrayed
On August 4, 1944, police came to the office annex and took away all 8 people in hiding and two office workers. Miep was spared. She detected an Austrian accent in the arresting officer. She told him she was also from Austria. He screamed at her for being a traitor but did not arrest her. He told her she better be working in the office every time he checked. Miep complied. Her ability to keep the business open during those times saved the company. To this day it is not known with certainty who notified the Nazis that the Frank family was living above the office in hiding.
Miep finds Anne’s diary
After the Franks were taken away, Miep took a risk and went upstairs. Everything up there was now German property and would be collected soon.
Miep had become a confidante, especially to Anne and Edith Frank. She visited them upstairs daily during her lunch break. She even stayed overnight with them one night after Anne begged her to come to be their guest. She celebrated their birthdays. They celebrated Miep’s wedding anniversary. Miep knew how Anne treasured her diary.
Among the items strewn about after the raid, Miep found Anne’s red plaid diary, given to her on her 13th birthday before they went into hiding, and other papers. She grabbed them, went downstairs, and locked everything in her desk without reading any of it.
The tragic ending is known. Otto Frank was the only member of the family in hiding to survive the concentration camps. Margot and Anne were transferred from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen but died of Typhus shortly before the camps were liberated by the Allies. The Allies had invaded France on June 6, 1944, D-Day. Dutch citizens illegally listened to the BBC at night to get news of what they were sure would be an end to the war and a resounding defeat of the Germans.
Otto Frank returned to Amsterdam to live with Miep and Henk still holding out hope Margot and Anne had survived the final days of the war. When they learned Margot and Anne would not be coming home, Miep gave her diary to Otto. Otto read it but it was too painful for Miep to read it.
Otto returned to his business. He would meet on Sundays with other Holocaust survivors who had lost their families. He shared parts of Anne’s diary with the group. Soon the diary was published. The book was published in many languages and read worldwide. The popular book was made into a Broadway play.
Miep agreed to read the diary and was glad she did. In 1987, she finally agreed to tell her story. After her book was published, she and Henk traveled extensively to speak to children and adults about the Holocaust. Otto Frank eventually remarried and moved to Basel, Switzerland. He left the spice business and devoted the rest of his life to tell his story to advocate for peace and tolerance.
In 2009, she wrote an afterword to her 1987 book to reflect on her 100th birthday.
“During the hiding time, I lived for the day that the war would end, when I would be able to go into the hiding place, throw open the doors, and say to my friends, ‘Now go home!’ This was not to be.” (p. 264)
Miep said there is not a day that goes by that she doesn’t think of her friends who did not survive the Holocaust.
She concludes the afterword with:
“For some reason, I was given a great opportunity to find and shelter the diary, to be able to bring the message from Anne to the world. I will never know why.” (p. 264)
Miep died in 2010 shortly before her 101st birthday.
Take time to read Miep’s book. Learn about the Holocaust. Imagine riding your bike for hours with ice hitting your eyes to find food for a hungry friend. Resolve to honor the thousands of ordinary citizens who helped Jewish families by never forgetting their acts of compassion, kinship, and love.
1994 Wallenberg Medal awarded to Miep Gies – University of Michigan
In 1994, Miep received the University of Michigan’s Raoul Wallenberg Medal. The video below is of Miep receiving the medal and delivering about a 30 minute lecture (from 18:25 to 51:00 in the video)
The 1994 Raoul Wallenberg Medal ceremony and lecture at the University of Michigan.
Copyright © 2019 Judith Stanford Miller/Student News Net. No portion of the text and Student News Net photos in this article can be copied, disseminated, or distributed without the author’s permission.