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Miep Gies dies at 100; gave protection to Anne Frank

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Miep Gies, who played a pivotal role in introducing to the world the poignant diary of the young Anne Frank and in relating the Frank family's failed attempt to hide from the Nazis, has died. She was 100.

Gies died Monday after a short illness, according to an announcement on her website. No other details were provided.

The scattered papers Gies gathered up after Anne and her family were taken from their hiding place in Amsterdam to concentration camps were later compiled by Anne's father into one of the most widely read nonfiction books of all time.

According to the Anne Frank Center USA in New York City, "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl" has been translated into more than 67 languages and tens of millions of copies have sold since its publication in 1947. For millions of young people, Anne's story is their initial exposure to the Holocaust.

The famous words from Anne's closing passage -- "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart" -- have inspired hope and tolerance for the generations after World War II who have tried to grasp the horror of the annihilation of millions of Jews under Adolf Hitler.

Yet Anne's story might never have surfaced had it not been for Gies, a Christian, who said in her 90s that she felt no fear when she risked her life to protect and bring provisions to the Frank family during the war.

"Real strength is being able to carry on when times are hard," Gies told Oprah magazine in 2002. "I had no time to occupy myself with fear. There was work to be done."

Modest fame

After the war, Gies enjoyed modest fame for her part in keeping Anne Frank and her family alive while they hid from the Nazis and for rescuing Anne's writings in the hope of returning them to Anne after the war.

Anne, almost 16, and her sister Margot, 19, both died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp a few weeks before it was liberated

For the Dutch, Gies, who was the last survivor of the Franks' five most important helpers, "is very much the heroine of the Anne Frank story, since she represents the ideal," according to Carol Ann Lee's 2003 book "The Hidden Life of Otto Frank."

On what would have been Anne Frank's 75th birthday, Gies, then 96, told People magazine: "I have written many things about her. But, after all this time, it is still extremely painful that Anne didn't live -- that none of them did."

Miep Gies -- pronounced "Meep Gees" -- was born Hermine Santrouschitz in Vienna on Feb. 15, 1909, five years before World War I began in Europe. The war caused widespread food shortages and, like many, young Gies became sick from malnutrition.

At 11, Gies was sent to the Netherlands by her parents, who were concerned for her welfare. "I was bundled up in whatever my parents could find and taken to the cavernous Vienna railway station," she said. She recalled thinking, "What have I done to be so ill and abandoned?"

Years later, she realized, it was this thought that surfaced when she saw what was happening to the Jews under Hitler.

Many other sickly children also were waiting with Gies for the train, all with the same cards hung about their necks. Hers had the name of people she had never met, who spoke Dutch, not German. She rarely saw her birth parents after that.

Her new family, who eventually moved from a small town in Holland to the bustling city of Amsterdam, gave her the Dutch nickname Miep.

In 1933, Gies took an office job with Otto Frank, whose firm specialized in pectin and spices. Frank had recently left Germany because of Hitler's anti-Jewish policies, and his family, including his youngest daughter, Anne, were soon to follow.

Over the years, Anne grew to idolize the older and more glamorous Gies, who had blond hair and blue eyes. When Gies married social worker Jan Gies in 1941, she said Anne "treated us almost as though we were two movie stars."

The wedding was the last public celebration that Anne would attend.

In the months leading up to the Franks' disappearance from the public eye, they listened to the radio with Gies and heard the increasingly bad news.

Dark days

On May 10, 1940, the Germans entered the Netherlands. Within four days, the country was in Hitler's hands, and things began a slow spiral into despair.

In the spring of 1942, Otto Frank confided to Gies that he and his wife and two daughters -- 14-year-old Anne and 16-year-old Margot -- were "planning to go under -- to go into hiding" upstairs at his offices at 263 Prinsengracht.

"Miep, are you willing to take on the responsibility of taking care of us while we are in hiding?" Frank asked Gies.

"Of course," she replied.

After the war, when questioned about this almost casual response, she explained that she knew instantly that if she refused, she "could foresee many sleepless nights" because "remorse and regret can be worse than losing your life."

That summer, on a rainy Monday, the Franks officially disappeared behind a bookcase into the upstairs rooms they would occupy for the next 25 months.

Gies was one of their first visitors. But, seeing their grief, she offered to go find some food, wanting to leave them alone.

"They had simply closed the door of their lives and had vanished from Amsterdam," Gies said. "Mrs. Frank's face said it all. Quickly, I left them."

For the next two years, until the Franks and four others, who later went into hiding with them, were ultimately betrayed, Gies and her husband used pluck and illegal ration cards to provide food and other supplies to the upstairs prisoners.

Gies would visit in the morning before she reported for her office duties, and again in the evening after everyone had left. During the day, the family barely moved, fearful that the slightest sound would reveal their presence to the other workers downstairs.

A hunter

"Because I was a lifeline, I felt myself to be a kind of hunter," Gies said, "ever hunting for my always-hungry brood." Others quietly helped -- a butcher, a baker, a greengrocer.

During the family's confinement, Gies and the others were aware that Anne was writing in the red-orange checkered cloth-bound diary that her father had given her for her 13th birthday, a few weeks before they went into hiding.

Anne, who wanted to become a writer, had begun her diary with girlish entries. But after going into hiding she became a more serious writer.

Anne referred to Gies numerous times in her diary: "Miep is just like a pack mule, she fetches and carries so much." "Miep has made a lovely Christmas cake, on which she has written 'Peace 1944.' " "It seems as if we are never far from Miep's thoughts."

Meanwhile, the Gieses also took a young Jewish man into hiding in their apartment, stretching their rations even further.

After many months, there was good news on the war front in Europe, but the Netherlands was still in the grip of the Nazis. On Aug. 4, 1944 -- a Friday morning, as lunchtime approached -- a man showed up at the office and pointed a revolver at Gies and her fellow workers.

The secret hiding quarters had been betrayed and, as a grief-stricken Gies watched, the Franks were taken into custody by the Gestapo.

"I could tell from their footsteps that they were coming down like beaten dogs," she said. "But I could not go to them and say 'goodbye.' "

Gies, who was suspected of hiding them, escaped arrest only because one of the officers was a fellow Viennese and he let her go. She later said she always felt guilty about that.

After the officers left with their prisoners, Gies and some others found the hiding place ransacked. Fearing that the officers would return looking for valuables, Gies scanned the chaos and spotted Anne's diary on the floor.

"I knew how precious [it] was to Anne," Gies wrote.

The diary and many other of Anne's papers were quickly gathered up and dumped into Gies' office drawer, unlocked. She intended to return them to Anne when she came back to Amsterdam.

Ten months later, the war was over. Otto Frank returned -- the only survivor of the camps among his family and his friends in hiding.

Anne's mother, Edith, died at Auschwitz.

Voice from the past

The day Otto Frank heard the news about his daughters in a letter he received in his office, a shocked Gies reached into the drawer of her desk and took out Anne's unread diary and papers.

Gies said, "Here is your daughter Anne's legacy to you. He touched it with his fingers."

When Frank could finally bring himself to read it, he began translating the diary into German for his mother to read.

Later, someone saw excerpts and asked for more. Eventually a publisher convinced a reluctant Frank to allow the book to be published. It was first titled "Het Achterhuis," or "The Annex," Anne's nickname for the rooms they occupied.

Gies, still grieving for Anne and Anne's mother and sister, was unable to read the diary until well into its second printing. She believed she would be invading Anne's privacy and that it would be too painful. At Otto Frank's urging, she sat down with it.

"I read the whole diary without stopping. I heard Anne's voice come back to speak to me from where she had gone."

But, she told the Washington Post years later, had she read it before she turned it over to Anne's father, she probably would have burned it.

"Anne had written [about] other people that were in hiding -- by name," she explained. "The Nazis would have come for them."

After the war, Gies devoted herself to raising a son, who was born in 1950. Otto Frank lived with the Gieses for several years before moving to Switzerland. He died in 1980.

Though reluctant to take credit for helping the Franks while they were in hiding, Gies was glad that she could help fulfill Anne's life ambition of being immortalized through her writing.

"I could not save Anne's life," she said. "However, I did save her diary, and by that I could help her most important dreams to come true."

In 1996, Gies was knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

Jan Gies died in 1993. Gies is survived by her son and three grandchildren.

news.obits@latimes.com

Luther is a former Times staff writer.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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