The Girl In The Photo

Miep Gies as a young woman (shortly after WWII)

Miep Gies, the longest living from among the helpers and hiders of Anne Frank and her family in the Secret Annex, died yesterday at the age of 100. I never met Gies, but I did have the opportunity as a girl to meet another of the Franks’ protectors, Victor Kugler (referred to in Anne’s diary as Mr. Kraler) when he and his wife (who had immigrated to Toronto) visited my class at school. I was fortunate to have met Kugler when I did, when I was in seventh grade, because he died less than three years later in 1981.

Anne Frank has always been a presence in my mind, as she has been for so many others. While growing up, I read her diary, saw the dramatized version of it (on stage and screen), learned about the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, and studied Anne’s role and place in the world of Holocaust remembrance. Most markedly, the one and only time I have been called a dirty Jew to my face was as I rode the subway home with some classmates from a performance of the Diary of Anne Frank (a memorable production starring Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson and their daughter Roberta Wallach as Anne). A woman, apparently drunk after having imbibed one too many drinks after work, let slip her true feelings about us when we answered her inquiry as to where we went to school with the name of our Jewish day school.

Having been exposed (more likely overexposed) to Holocaust education from a very young age, and later working in a Holocaust museum, I have always been aware that what we need to know about the Shoah does not begin and end with Anne Frank. I am among those who argue that by limiting Holocaust education (especially in public and non-Jewish schools) to the reading of Anne’s diary, teachers are doing a disservice to their students and (probably unintentionally) dishonoring the memories of the one and a half million other Jewish children who were killed by or suffered at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators.

Pages in the diary.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t think that Anne Frank had exceptional writing talent and an insightful neshama (soul) beyond her years. I so identify with Anne and her story that even now, many years after having first been introduced to it, I have a compulsion to always leave my home clean and orderly before going on a trip. I am pretty sure I do this because Anne wrote about how her family purposely left their home untidy, almost in disarray, the morning they went into hiding. They apparently wanted anyone who came looking for them to think they had left in a hurried, unplanned way (rather than having left to hide in conformance with a carefully premeditated scheme). I guess that according to my idiosyncratic (and maybe crazy) logic, I am convinced that as long as I can leave my home with the beds made and the dishes washed and put away, then I am safe.

My point is simply that much can be learned by reading the diaries of other children that were, fortunately for us, also recovered. Though none of them have garnered the attention of Anne’s, nor are most (if any) of their authors as literarily talented, they all give voice to Jewish children whose words deserve to be read and heard. By reading first-hand accounts of children in ghettos, camps, partisan outfits, and adoptive homes, we get a fuller picture of what happened beyond the Annex’s window. If you are interested in reading such accounts, Alexandra Zapruder’s award-winning book, Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust is a good place to start.

Anne and her sister Margot at the beach. Photos by Otto Frank.

As I have said, I never got to meet Miep Gies to ask her what it was like to know Anne Frank. I suppose the closest I have ever come to getting an answer to that question was when I went alone one weekday afternoon in 2004 to see an exhibition of until- then-never-before-seen Frank family photographs taken by Anne’s father, Otto (who seems to have been a talented amateur photographer). None of these pictures, all taken prior to WWII and the German occupation of the Netherlands, were from among the famous ones familiar to us all. So, as I stood there alone in the empty, silent gallery I felt as though I was getting to know Anne as she really was, as a person rather than the icon she has become. I felt like an intruder, as if Anne herself was present and whispering in my ear, asking me why I was interested in seeing these old photos of her and her family at home and on holiday.

Those photos capture the flesh and blood Anne, the one that Miep Gies knew both before and during the years in the Secret Annex. To Miep, Anne Frank was not a symbol experienced only through photographs and words on a page. She was a girl who lived and breathed, who laughed and cried, and who was excited to watch a neighbor on her wedding day (as Anne is seen here in the only existing moving images of her):

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


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3 Responses to “The Girl In The Photo”

  1. Ramona Carmelly Says:

    Today, many of these Righteous Gentiles are aged and needy. The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous was established to fulfill the traditional Jewish commitment to hakarat hatov, the searching out and recognition of goodness. They provide financial assistance to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the H…olocaust, as well as educational resources.

  2. israel4zion Says:

    Miep was such an incredible woman who did so much for those hiding in The Secret Annex, and for the little Jewish girl who would become a Voice for The Jewish Children who were Murdered by an Evil Nazi Government.

    100 years old.

    She lived a long life, and she did a lot of good in those 100 years.

    God Bless Miep Gies.

    The world needs more like Miep.

  3. Jill Pierson Says:

    Its amazing that she knew the actual Anne Frank, Im very interested into the life of anne frank & Thank you for saving her diary or noone would ever know what it was like in hiding without that powerful diary.

    100 Years, You did amazing things in those years & Thankyou very much.
    R.I.P ❤

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