From a Time of Darkness, a Light Shines : Miep Gies, Who Hid Anne Frank's Family, Speaks in Anaheim

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Miep Gies sees herself as an ordinary woman who simply did her part to help friends in need during extraordinarily dark times.

But to others who have come to know her story, Gies is a rare heroine who risked her life to help hide Anne Frank and her family from Nazis during World War II.

Because Frank wrote about Gies' critical role in her widely read diary, the 87-year-old resident of Amsterdam has earned a notable place in world history as someone who defied sinister forces when hate ruled her world.

Tonight, Gies will discuss her life's story at the Freedman Forum Concert Theater in Anaheim. The event, a prologue to next month's reopening of an exhibit at the Fullerton Museum Center, "Anne Frank in the World," has already sold out its 1,500 tickets.

"People are fascinated and encouraged by her heroism, although she is the first one to tell you that she is not a hero," said Bruce Giuliano, director of the Orange County Anne Frank committee. "Because so many people are familiar with Anne Frank's story, they feel they know Anne and they feel they know Miep."

During a brief interview Tuesday at Los Angeles International Airport, Gies said she is surprised, but pleased, that there is a strong interest in Anne Frank's life story, as well as in her own decision to shelter the Frank family in an Amsterdam attic at great personal risk.

"It's very surprising to me that people are interested in hearing these stories, because many ordinary people have tended to look the other way," Gies said through an interpreter. "I'm particularly impressed that many young people have an interest in finding out how this could happen."

Gies' story has been documented in her book, "Anne Frank Remembered," and in a film documentary of the same name that has been nominated for an Academy Award.

Gies said she has vivid memories of the harrowing period in which German soldiers occupied Holland and much of the rest of Europe, because Anne Frank's father, Otto Frank, lived with her and her husband for seven years after the war ended.

"I was forced to talk about it because Otto Frank found it important to talk about it to overcome his grief," she said.

Gies' life first intersected with the Frank family in 1933, when she was hired to work in the family's pectin trading business in Amsterdam. After Nazi soldiers began raiding Jewish households, the Frank family went into hiding in the business' attic.

For more than two years, Gies supplied the Frank family and others sharing the cramped quarters of the attic with food and news from the outside. The Frank family was arrested and sent to concentration camps, where Anne Frank, her mother and her sister perished. But Otto Frank survived.

Gies found Anne Frank's diary and returned it to Otto Frank after he was liberated from the Auschwitz concentration camp at the end of the war.

A petite woman with coiffed white hair, Gies doesn't particularly care for the media glare that surrounds her when she makes public appearances. She is reluctant to respond to reporters' questions unless she has time to craft thoughtful responses.

And traveling to other continents on tight schedules also can take its toll.

But Gies persists with her speaking tours because she's made it her mission to spread a message of tolerance, love and moral courage.

"Holocausts and genocide are still going on in places like Rwanda and Bosnia," Gies said.

Gies said she hopes her speeches will persuade people to help victims, not blame them, whenever there is a problem.

"Too often, when people are in trouble they look for scapegoats," she said.

Gies believes it is particularly important to relay messages of tolerance to youngsters. Before speaking in Anaheim, Gies plans to visit students at Wilson High School in Long Beach who are familiar with Anne Frank's diary.

As part of tonight's event in Anaheim, four Orange County students will read excerpts from Anne Frank's diary and Gies' book.

One of the students--Hallie King of Irvine--was so inspired by Gies' story that she recently completed a school project on her. As part of the project, the 12-year-old seventh-grader at Rancho San Joachim Middle School crafted a model of the annex where Gies helped the Frank family hide.

"I thought she was really great that she did all that without hesitation," she said.

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