Riding in a limo to the 1996 Academy Awards, Miep Gies—the Dutch woman who helped hide Anne Frank's family from the Nazis—explained with typical modesty, "'The only reason I came today is Anne always wanted to go to Hollywood,'" recalls director Jon Blair, whose documentary Anne Frank Remembered
(based on Gies' book) won that year. "She said, 'Anne always wanted to be a famous writer.'"
Today, of course, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
is one of the most widely read books in the world, with millions of copies sold in more than 60 languages. But the work—about her life cloistered in an annex of the building where her father, Otto, worked—would never have survived had it not been for the courage of Gies, who died at 100 in the Netherlands Jan. 11. "It's thanks to her that the diary exists," says David Barnouw, research director of the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation. "She was selfless."
A secretary for Otto Frank, the Austrian-born, Christian-reared Hermine "Miep" Gies—along with her husband, Jan, and several coworkers—risked her life to help hide the Franks and four other Amsterdam Jews from 1942 to 1944. Besides giving them cover, Gies and the others would "put on their most cheerful expressions, bring flowers and gifts for birthdays and holidays," wrote Anne. After Nazis raided the annex, Gies—who had also sheltered a young anti-Nazi student in her own home—retrieved Anne's diary for safekeeping. "She never read it," says Blair. "Had she done so, she would have been forced to burn it because it was so incriminating. But she kept it, hoping to give it back."
Following Anne's death in a concentration camp in 1945, Gies gave the diary to Otto, who alone survived and published it in 1947. Fiercely loyal and humble ("I am not a hero," she wrote in a 1987 biography), Gies—who is survived by her son Paul and three grandchildren—dedicated her long life to keeping Anne's story alive. "She was the last eyewitness of the people in hiding," notes Teresien da Silva, head of the collection at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Sharp-minded until the end, Gies remained forever entwined with the young girl whose spirit she preserved for history. "She had a family, friends," says da Silva. "But Anne Frank was always present."
- Simon Perry/London.