The guardians of Holland

It was the Miep and Jan Gies couple who helped Anna Frank’s family and other people to hide when the Nazis occupied Holland. Miep Gies Santroschitz became particularly popular as ”the woman who saved Anna Frank’s diary”. She was born in Austria. Her husband, Jan, was Dutch. Both were simple persons who made a choice: to assist the Frank and Van Pels families and Mr. Pfefer. All told they were eight persons who hid themselves in a secret annex of the Frank family’s shop where Anna Frank wrote her well-known diary.

When the Nazis invaded Europe, Miep Gies was one of Mr. Otto Frank secretaries. In an interview she granted in 1998 she recalls that in the Spring of 1942 her boss asked her to come to his office. When she entered he said: ”Sit down, I have something important to tell you. In fact it is sort of a secret. We have been thinking of hiding here, in this building. Would you be prepared to assist us and keep us supplied with foodstuffs?” She accepted spontaneously, and she goes on to explain that it was normal for her to accept since she was in a position to do so. In this regard, Miep said: ”They could do nothing and did not know where to go. I always stress that we are no heroes. We did what we had to do as human beings: to help those who were in need. Many people didn’t help, may be out of fear. Fear is something for which you cannot blame anyone, and I feel that even those who admit it openly are courageous”.

The Gies couple hid these people for over more than two years in the annex to the office on Prinsengracht street. For both of them the purchase of foodstuffs in large quantities represented a dangerous task, since people might become suspicious. In actual fact, the purchase of excessive quantities of food was the most evident sign to unmask those who hid Jews.

The hiding place of these families was not a usual one. In accordance with research work carried out in several European countries, in those times it was not convenient for people to hide in their own houses. The chosen places used to be attics, cellars, preferably in rural areas. Even though the Frank family did not live there, Otto was the owner of the building on 263 Prinsergracht, where his show was located.

It was not easy to find adequate hiding places in Holland. During a long period the hiding place of Jews in this country was organized on the initiative of the Jews themselves. In Holland, on account of its history, there was no tradition of resistance or disobedience against the authorities. For this reason, the strike that broke out in 1941, immediately after the first action against the Jews, was something exceptional.

The submission and the collaboration of the Dutch Administration during the first years of occupation; the efficience of the S.S. and the German occupation army, as well as geographic features, contributed significantly to the high percentage of deported Dutch Jews. Transportation was a factor that favoured the operation. Holland put numerous trains at the disposal of the deportation officials – more than in other countries. The last contingents left Westerbork in September 1944, and the Frank and Van Pels families as well as Mr. Pfefer were among the passengers.

Once the war was over, many of those who had helped Jews were surprised on learning that they were considered as heroes.

The guardian of the Frank family

Hermine Santrouschitz, a.k.a. Miep Gies, was vorn on February 15, 1909, in Vienna, Austria. Shortly after the first world war she suffered from severe malnutrition, for which reason she was sent to Amsterdam. Upon her recovery she decided to stay in Holland, since she had got used to her new way of living. She soon became a Dutch citizen and started working for the Traves & Co. firm. There she met her boss, Mr. Otto Frank, and they immediately became close friends.

On July 16, 1941, she married Jan Gies. A year later the Nazis invaded Holland and it was then that the couple decided to hide, feed and care for the Frank and other Jewish families.

Miep and Jan Gies kept these people in hiding for over more than two years.

On August 4, 1944, the families were found and transferred to concentration camps. Miiep found Anna Frank’s diary and put it in one of her desk drawers, without reading it. When the war came to an end the only survivor of the group was Otto Frank. Miep gave him Anna’s diary and since then her writings were published in several languages.

Translation: Josefina Prytyka