Miep Gies was born on 15 February 1909 in Vienna (Austria) as Hermine Santrouschitz. The Santrouschitz family was Catholic and not well-off. Because there was not a lot of food available after the First World War, Miep even became malnourished. Her family therefore decided to make use of a relief project for Austrian children: in December 1920 they put 11-year-old Miep on the train to the Netherlands to become healthier.
Miep Gies was one of the helpers of the people hiding in the Secret Annex. After the arrest, she kept Anne's writings in a drawer of her desk. In 2010 she died, one hundred years old. This is her remarkable life story.
Miep turns Dutch and stays on with her foster parents
Miep ended up in Leiden, where the Nieuwenburg family lovingly received her. In 1924, the family moved to Amsterdam and Miep’s biological parents eventually decided that Miep was so much at home in the Netherlands that it would be better for her to stay there. Her foster parents agreed.
When Miep turned 18, she started working as a typist in an embroidery and pleating workshop. When the crisis hit six years later, she lost her job. Fortunately, her upstairs neighbour knew of another opportunity: she worked as a representative for Otto Frank's business and arranged for an interview with Otto, who was just setting up his Opekta business.
Miep was hired. As soon as she had mastered the jam-making process, she was promoted to the ‘Opekta Information Service': the firm’s customer service, where she answered questions by phone and mail.
‘It was a matter of course for me, I was able to help these people. We did our human duty: helping people in need’
Miep decides to help
Miep had met Jan Gies in her first job. The two got romantically involved and on 16 July 1941, in the second year of war, the couple married. At that point, Jan was working as a social worker with Social Services of the municipality of Amsterdam. They found a house near the Merwedeplein, where the Frank family lived.
Then one day Otto called Miep in and informed her of the plans to go into hiding. He asked Miep if she would be willing to help him and his family if they had to go into hiding in the Secret Annex. Miep did not hesitate for one second.
Cycling to the Secret Annex with Margot
When Margot received a call-up on 5 July 1942, Otto and Edith Frank decided to go into hiding the next day. They called Miep and Jan, so that they could bring things for the hiding place. The next morning, Miep picked up Margot. Together they cycled to Otto's company on the Prinsengracht. Otto, Edith, and Anne went there on foot.
Once they were settled in the hiding place, they quickly established a routine. The helpers divided the work, with Miep taking care of the meat and vegetables. In her diary, Anne wrote: ‘Miep is just like a pack mule, she fetches and carries so much. Almost every day she manages to get hold of some vegetables for us brings everything in shopping bags on her bicycle.’ In addition, Miep brought the people in hiding library books.
‘To the outside world, we had to look as relaxed as possible, or people might have grown suspicious.’
‘I'm writing about you, too’
In addition to the daily care for the eight people in hiding (the Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer joined the Frank family in the Secret Annex), the work for the company had to continue as normal as possible.
At the same time, Miep and Jan Gies were hiding someone in their own home from May 1943 onwards. Kuno van der Horst, a 23-year-old student, went into hiding with the Gies family because he had refused to sign a declaration of loyalty to the Nazis.
Miep knew that Anne kept a diary. One day she interrupted Anne while she was writing. ‘She gave me a look that I will never forget. She looked furious, grim. And then Anne stood up, slammed her diary shut, and looked down her nose at me. “Yes,” she said, “and I’m writing about you, too.” I did not know what to say. The only thing I could think of was: “I’m sure it’ll be lovely.”’
Miep keeps Anne’s diary notes
But then, on Friday morning 4 August 1944, Dutch police officers, headed by SS-Hauptscharführer Karl Josef Silberbauer, unexpectedly raided Prinsengracht 263. They arrested the eight people in hiding, as well as their helpers Johannes Kleiman and Victor Kugler.
When Miep and Bep later went to the Secret Annex to see if they could save some personal belongings of the people in hiding, they found Anne's notebooks and papers on the floor. Miep and Bep gathered everything up and Miep decided to keep the papers in a desk drawer, hoping one day to be able to return them to Anne.
After the arrest Miep made a last desperate attempt to free the people who had been arrested. She took a big risk and walked into the headquarters of the Sicherheitsdienst. But it didn’t work.
Fortunately, there was a glimmer of light: to the great relief of those left behind on the Prinsengracht, Johannes Kleiman was released after just a few weeks. Miep and the other helpers kept the business running. They hoped for the return of the eight people from the Secret Annex.
‘This is the legacy of your daughter Anne’
Miep hands the diary to Otto
On 5 May 1945, the Netherlands was a free country again. In early June, Otto showed up on Jan and Miep’s doorstep. ‘You can stay with us for as long as you wish,’ Miep told him. In the end, Otto would stay with Jan and Miep for more than seven years. When it became clear in mid-July 1945 that Anne had died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Miep handed the diary papers to Otto.
After the publication of the diary in 1947, Otto urged Miep to read the book. She only read it after his prolonged insistence. ‘I was glad that I had not read the book straight after the arrest, (...) when it was sitting in my desk drawer. If I had, I would have had to burn it, because it was too dangerous for the people Anne wrote about.’
‘My story is a story of very ordinary people during extraordinarily terrible times.’
‘We could not have done more’
For years, Miep’s life after the war was connected to Anne’s legacy. Countless were the times she told students her stories about the Secret Annex and her memories of Anne. In the early 1990s, she wrote her memoir, helped by writer Alison Leslie Gold.
Every year on 4 August, Miep and Jan Gies commemorated the loss of their friends. Miep realised that they had done all they could. ‘In that dark time of the war, we did not stand on the sidelines, but extended our hands to help others. Risking our own lives. We could not have done more.’