Exactly 5 years ago today since the woman who discovered Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, Miep Gies, died, aged 100.
Anne Frank herself would have been 86, had she survived the Holocaust. She died in late March 1945 at just 16 from Typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Anne Frank’s diary is one of the world’s most read books – she initiated its writing from a blank diary given to her on her birthday, addressing each section as Dear Kitty. Her father Otto Frank (who outlived his wife, Edith and daughters, Margot and Anne) and Miep Gies, who did so much to protect the family and preserve their memories, were instrumental in bringing the diary to publication, in 1947.
Miep Gies worked for Otto Frank and became a trusted friend who hid the family above Otto’s business premises in Amsterdam. Less well known is that she also hid a Jewish university student. She originated from Vienna and like the Franks had moved to Prinsengracht, Amsterdam due to war – albeit because of food shortages in World War One. She refused to join the Nazi Party and had her passport invalidated. She sourced food daily from different shops over 2 years to avoid suspicion and was only saved from execution for hiding the Franks because the interrogating officer was Austrian, from Vienna too.
It’s a depressing period of history, made all the more poignant by the fact that Bergen-Belsen was liberated just a month after Anne’s death.
Miep Gies though deserves recognition today and always, as she risked her own life to protect others. She discovered the famous Diary of a Young Girl but was apprehensive about its publication, as Anne named Miep Gies’ black market food suppliers. She didn’t want to implicate others as she saved lives, risking her own, selflessly.
So, when I look at the world today: the stories of refugees, the headlines about starvation in Madaya, Syria, “the Jungle” at Calais and the distressing events in Cologne, I wonder has the world moved on much from 1945?
Should we as people, a world community, act collectively more like Miep Gies, in helping and protecting others from tyranny, injustice and violence?
In 10, 20, 30, 50 years’ time, will history uncover many others like Miep Gies or landmark diaries from young refugees, still living in terror in 2016?
I hope so.
Perhaps then we can try to learn lessons – again.