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Monday, January 11, 2010

R.I.P. and thank you, Miep Gies
Posted by Jill | 9:19 PM
The other day I was watching Schindler's List on TV and thinking about just how close Stephen Spielberg came in this film to the masterpiece everyone thought it was. Then that damn scene at the end where once again, Spielberg doesn't trust his audience and stages this weepy breakdown where Oscar Schindler (Liam Neeson) blubbers about he could have saved more -- and pisses you off, until the very end, where the actual Schindlerjüden and the people who play them in the movie file past Schindler's grave. And then you forgive him.

These days, as lunatics who know nothing about actual facts, only what they hear on Fox News, decide that Barack Obama is the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, it's kind of instructive to take a look at what hatred of "the other" results in, whether "the other" is Jew, or Muslim, or Mexican, or anything else. And it is in this context that we, the denizens of the 21st century, say goodbye to another hero of the Holocaust, Miep Gies, who has died in a nursing home in the Netherlands at the age of 100:
Miep Gies, the last surviving member of the group who helped protect Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis, has died in the Netherlands aged 100.

She and other employees of Anne Frank's father Otto supplied food to the family as they hid in a secret annex above the business premises in Amsterdam.

Anne's diary of their life in hiding, which ended in betrayal, is one of the most famous records of the Holocaust.

It was rescued by Mrs Gies, who kept it safe until after the war.

Miep Gies died in a nursing home after suffering a fall just before Christmas.

Speaking last year as she celebrated her 100th birthday, Mrs Gies played down her role, saying others had done far more to protect Jews in the Netherlands.

She and her fellow employees kept Anne and the seven others supplied for two years, from 1942 to 1944.

Anne Frank died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945

When the family were found by the authorities, they were deported, and Anne died of typhus in the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen.

It was Mrs Gies who collected up Anne's papers and locked them away, hoping that one day she would be able to give them back to the girl.

In the event, she returned them to Otto Frank, who survived the war, and helped him compile them into a diary that was published in 1947.

When I was growing up, there wasn't a girl in this country who didn't read Anne Frank's diary. We read it as literature, or we read it as Jews, or we read it as a peek into the mind of a girl who was so much like us. I'm not sure Miep Gies realized, as she scooped up the pages from the floor of the "Secret Annexe" where she had hidden the Frank family before they were found and taken to the camp at Bergen-Belsen, the role she would play in giving Anne Frank the kind of immortality that few of us achieve no matter how long we live. I always wondered what Anne Frank would make of her enduring legacy.

In 1997, Miep Gies answered questions from students at the Scholastic web site. In answer to a question about whether she was frightened about what she was doing in hiding the Frank family, she replied:
Of course, initially life is more comfortable if you stay out. You might silence your concern about injustice or cruel things happening to other people by telling yourself that those people should solve their problems themselves. It is a very selfish attitude, but, as I said, safe in the beginning. But, I could foresee that there would come a day that my conscience would start to bother me. This would be a kind of burden. Just like many people, all over the world, are unhappy and restless today because they did not help the Jews during the Holocaust. Think for instance of the ships with Jews that tried to enter the U.S. and were sent back! So, my conclusion is that really thinking of yourself is often better served by making some sacrifices today than having a miserable life later, feeling remorse about the help you failed to give to those who needed you....Yes, I would help again. Although, some people (rightfully) state that I could have not saved Anne's life, I still helped her to live another two years. During these years she wrote her wonderful diary, touching the heart of millions of people and inspiring them. Because I could rescue this diary, it was not a lost effort. From this we learn that it is always better to try. Sure failure results from not trying. My decision to help Otto was because I saw no alternative. I could foresee many sleepless nights and an unhappy life if I would refuse. And that was not the kind of future I wanted to for myself. Permanent remorse about failing to do your human duty, in my opinion, can be worse than losing your life.

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5 Comments:
Blogger BadTux said...
And amongst other things, the diary that Miep Gies saved inspired some interesting music...

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Anonymous Anonymous said...
It's amazing how foolish the American people are. The world is laughing at you.

It was written with a ball point pen!

Who owns Hollywood?!!!

Anonymous mandt said...
The impact of the Holocaust is beyond imagining, except in those personal narratives where the individual humanity and uniqueness of a single human life is lighted in high relief. The stories of children and their parents at Theresienstadt still moves me to tears and outrage even after all these years. I recall once, decades ago, being asked to read out during a memorial Holocaust service the names of all the camps, the numbers murdered there and the 'categories of humans (as defined by Germans) that were doomed therein. About halfway through, as tens of thousands became hundreds of thousands, and then millions I broke down and sobbed before several hundred people and they too broke tears of grief like a never ending wave from the recent past.

Blogger jurassicpork said...
Personally, I thought Neeson's monologue at the end tied the whole film together. It was the emotional crescendo that you were waiting for, when Schindler finally comes full circle and actually thinks he failed the people he saved.

Gies was a hero, no doubt about it, and she always wave aside the accolades, saying rightly that others had done more for the Jews of Holland. Still, she put her life in danger for 25 months. The Nazis could've killed her at anytime.

Just don't forget, though, that she would've burned Ann Frank's diary if she'd read it. Thank goodness she didn't.

We went to the Anne Frank house on our honeymoon. Moving as hell.

Living in California, I don't meet as many people who were directly affected by the Holocaust. We lived in Philly for two years, and met several people who were children of only children. Only children because their entire families...parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc....were all killed in the war or in the camps or both. It was very sobering.