Fergus, Anne Frank tiesPublished 5:06pm Saturday, January 16, 2010
Miep Gies, the woman who helped hide Anne Frank’s family and who recovered her diary, died Monday, Jan. 11, at 100 in the Netherlands. She was the last surviving member of the small group that hid the Frank family from the Nazis.
Fergus Falls resident Nancy Larson met Gies several years ago in Dallas, Texas, where Larson resided at the time and when Gies attended a book fair. The two became friends.
“Through our conversations, we learned about each other’s lives,” said Larson, a 1967 graduate of Fergus Falls High School and the daughter of the late Irene and Clarence (Butch) Larson, who had survived the Bataan Death March during World War II.
“Miep invited me to visit her in Amsterdam, and I was fortunate to do that,” said Larson. “She took me to the Anne Frank Foundation, a large and beautiful building. Miep showed me the real diary that Anne wrote in. I was in awe to see the diary, and amazed at Anne’s beautiful penmanship.”
From July 6, 1942, until Aug. 4, 1944, Gies, her husband, Jan, and the other helpers risked arrest and possible death by providing the Jews with food, supplies, news and a link to the outside world.
After the Gestapo raided the annex and sent the Franks and the others in hiding to concentration camps, Gies and a fellow worker, Bep Voskuijl, sifted through the debris and found Anne’s cloth-covered diary. Gies hid it in a desk drawer until after the war, hoping to return it to its young author.
Upon learning that Anne and her sister, Margot, died at Bergen-Belsen, Gies gave the diary to Otto Frank, Anne’s father and the only family member who survived the death camps. Anne’s mother also died in a concentration camp.
Gies was able to read the diary before Otto Frank had it published in 1947, two years after the end of World War II.
Today, “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl,” a memoir of the Holocaust, is one of the most widely read books around the world. It was translated from Dutch into 67 languages and made into a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, an opera and 1959 film.
“After the book was published, Miep devoted the rest of her life to keeping the memory of Anne Frank alive,” said Larson. “She traveled to dozens of countries, gave speeches in Dallas and many other cities.”
Every Aug. 4, Miep Gies marked the day her friends (including Anne Frank) were taken away by staying indoors with the curtains drawn.
“I reconnected with Miep during another of her visits to Dallas,” said Larson, “The Anne Frank Elementary School was dedicated in her honor.”
It was during the book fair in Dallas when Larson, through her friend Susan Wilkofsky, first met Gies. Wilkofsky, who headed the Jewish Community Book Fair, asked Larson if she could pick up Gies and a traveling companion and manager at the Dallas airport. Larson readily agreed.
“In our conversation, she asked me about my family,” said Larson. “The
subject of my father came up, and the fact that he was a POW of the Japanese. She asked if he had written about his story and, when she found out he had not, she emphatically said, ‘He must write a book.’ It was then that I really started to push my dad to write his story.”
Butch Larson, who died in 2005, previously detailed his miraculous journey through countless brutal ordeals in his book “A Long March Home.”
Gies, said Larson, was a very private person who eventually wrote a book of her own. The text was made into a documentary and won an Oscar. Gies came back to the United States to accept the honor.
In Anne Frank’s room in the annex, she had several pictures of popular movie stars of the time and she could only dream of Hollywood.
“Miep felt she had accomplished Anne’s dream of getting to Hollywood,” said Larson. “This story made Miep very emotional. She had a hard time speaking of Anne and did so only when asked. Sometimes she was unable to do it at all — even 60-some years after the Franks were discovered and sent to concentration camps.”
Originally, they went into hiding which was the upstairs of Mr. Otto Frank’s spice business, said Larson. Miep had worked for him for many years.
When Anne’s sister Margot left for what she called a job (which tragically turned out to be a death camp), Miep continued to run the business so the Nazis would not notice any difference in the business of the Franks who were Jewish. Miep was a Calvinist.
During World War II, while protecting Anne Frank and her family, Miep Gies would go upstairs each day to the secret annex and bring what food she could find, along with news. To purchase food, people needed coupons or stamps.
“Miep had to make sure she had enough food for her and her husband, Jan,” said Larson. “They had no children and lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment.”
Larson, while in Amsterdam and taken by Miep to the Anne Frank Foundation, had the opportunity to see the original pictures that Anne had in her bedroom — of movie stars and some other memorabilia.
“All of this belonged to a 14-year-old-girl,” said Larson. “The diary, which was given to Anne on her 13th birthday, chronicles her life from June 12, 1942, until Aug. 1, 1944.”
There’s much speculation how the Franks were discovered and taken to different concentration camps. One of the more popular beliefs is that it may have been another woman who had helped care for the Franks.
“Miep had her own belief,” said Larson, “but she didn’t speak of it. Unless she gave her opinion prior to her death, I don’t think we’ll ever know. People were rewarded when they discovered a Jew or a homosexual or some other minority group the Nazis wanted to eliminate.”
Larson said it’s one of the best experiences of her life to have known Miep Gies and have letters from her, as well as her book, personally autographed for Larson.
“To this day I’m in awe of her and feel she’s a true hero to me,” said Larson. “She’s one person who stood up and said, ‘No more.’ She actually did something about it. Miep showed that one person can make an enormous change in the world.”