Miep Gies, who has died aged 100, wrote towards the end of her life: “I am not a hero. I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did -- and much more.” She was, however, the material from which the truest, most decent, most steadfast heroes are made. She found, and at great personal risk, preserved the diary of Anne Frank for posterity in 1944 after the girl and her family were caught in hiding by Germans.
More than that, she was, earlier, the friend who looked after the Frank family in their now world-famous Amsterdam annexe. She shopped for them, watched out for them, cheered them up and gave the adolescent Anne her first -- and only -- pair of high-heeled shoes. Without Miep, the family’s two years in hiding would have been impossible.
After their capture, she tried to buy the people of the annexe back from Gestapo officers, only to be called “schweinehund” and thrown out. When Anne’s father, Otto, returned from the camps as the Franks’ only survivor, he lived as one of her family for some years.
In the 1950s, as the diary began to win a reputation, Miep was one of a wide range of people investigated on suspicion that she had betrayed the Franks to the Nazis. Otto stopped the investigation with a sentence: “If you suspect Miep, you suspect me.”
She was the last human link with the concealed but intense life in the secret building on the Prinsengracht canal, now known as the Anne Frank House, which attracts 500,000 visitors a year.
Like the Franks, who were German Jews, Gies was not Dutch. She was born Hermine Santruschitz, in Vienna, Austria. But, because her body became wasted through undernourishment during the First World War, she was sent with other Austrian workers’ children to be revitalised in the Netherlands. She took to Holland, reached the top of her Dutch language class within months and was happy when her stay was prolonged. By agreement with her natural parents, she was adopted by a middle-class Dutch family, the Nieuwenburgs, while keeping her Austrian citizenship -- it was the Nieuwenburgs who nicknamed her Miep.
Her memoir, Anne Frank Remembered (1982), gives a unique glimpse of Anne’s intentness as a writer. Her son, Paul, and three grandchildren, survive her. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010