Friday, January 15, 2010

Quiet Heroes Offer Lasting Inspiration — CMB Post

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Today I was going to post about my adolescent son who is, to put it mildly, driving me crazy. I'll have save that post for another day, however, because today I was inspired to post about another adolescent instead — Anne Frank. Anne is back in the news today because Miep Gies, one of the courageous non-Jews who gave Anne, her family and four other Jews safe harbor during WWII, passed away on January 11 at the age of 100.

You can't help but juxtapose the long, lovely life of this quiet hero with the too-short life and tragic death of 15-year-old Anne. Just as we rail against the senseless loss of the vibrant young girl, we should celebrate the generous life of the woman who helped preserve the girl's legacy, for as Arthur Max pointed out in the lead of his AP story, "Without Miep Gies, the story of Anne Frank might never have been known."

It was Miep who collected the pages of Anne's diary, tucked them away for the duration of the war, and returned them safely to Anne's father Otto, who published them in 1947. That simple act — saving the story — has had an immeasurable impact. The most recent records I could find state that, as of 2007, Anne Frank: Diary of A Young Girl has been translated into 65 languages and sold more than 30 million copies. The world owes a debt of gratitude to Miep Gies, and I owe her a personal one, as well.

Like many young girls, I was enthralled by Anne's diary. Her voice was so real, so honest. I felt like I knew her. I felt like we were friends. I felt like she was a contemporary, someone who understood the petty annoyances and tiny joys of my life.

At the same time, reading about Anne hiding in the attic brought me vicarious thrills and fear. I could only imagine what it was like to live in such trying circumstances — alternating between tedium and terror. I spent hours in my own attic and basement, looking for places to hide. I practiced holding my breath and being as quiet as possible. I shook with fear at my imagined peril and the idea of losing everyone and everything I loved. And I cried for weeks when I finished her diary and learned of her fate. It was many, many years before I could read it again.

Anne's story, and the hundreds of biographies I read after it, opened the wider world to me, connecting me to the past, to different parts of the world, to different cultures. I began to understand that it wasn't all about me, that there were other people who were feeling the same things I was feeling, sometimes in better circumstances, often in worse. I began to develop feelings of understanding, compassion and empathy for those beyond my immediate circle. It was a profound lesson.

As a writer, I realize now that The Diary of a Young Girl showed me that the power of the story cannot be denied. It is our stories that connect us, that stir our sense of right and wrong, and that spur us to action. These are the stories that we pass from generation to generation. I don't know if my daughter has ever read Anne's diary. I know at one point she was afraid to read it. I'll have to search for my copy and hand it down to her to add to her growing personal collection.

Our family is making plans to visit the new Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie to learn more stories about Holocaust, its survivors, its heros and its victims. For a list of wonderful stories to share with your children about peace, progress, and creative ends to conflicts, visit the most recent post on the Planet Esme Plan Blog.

I look forward to rereading Anne's story and to reading Miep's own memoir, Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped Hide the Frank Family. I offer them both my love and gratitude for their continued inspiration.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. Susan Bearman also writes at Two Kinds of People and you can now also visit her at her new Website of writing services.


Susan Bearman said...

Comments from the original Chicago Moms Blog post:

FluffyRoss said...
I have never forgotten the poignant Anne Frank story...all the girls in my life have read it. I'm glad the schools still have it on their reading list.

O.K. call me a Grinch. BUT: 1. so far as the "good Germans", and how they tried-- (I'm a child of a survivor). Can you imagine Jews being herded from their homes on your block in the U.S.? Would every single person be simply too frightened to say anything? No eccentrics or suicidals who would be willing to confront the Gestapo? Answer: no. too many willing German executioners. 2. I know the Germans thought it a real hoo ha to put the ancient Demjanjuk on trial, but what about all those complicit Germans? What about the Gestapo and regular police who herded them from their homes and attics and hiding places? 3. IF Germans were in such fear as to what would happen to them in protecting the Jews, why did nothing happen to Miep? She hid the families for two years.

January 15, 2010 at 01:23 PM

January 15, 2010 at 01:23 PM

Susan @ 2KoP said...

It's important to remember that Anne Frank, her family, Miep Gies and the others who helped hide Anne in her family were Dutch, not German, and this true story took place in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. The "helpers" were not complicit in the Nazi occupation of their country and put their own lives in danger when they chose to help the Franks and other Dutch Jews.

I think it's easy to believe that we would do the right thing under extreme duress, but it's hard to know for sure unless you experience the situation directly. Miep never claimed to be a hero. In fact, in this interview, Miep said: "I always emphasize that we were not heroes. We did our duty as human beings: helping people in need. Lots of people didn't help, some because they were afraid. If someone is afraid, you shouldn't hold that against him or her."

In our own time, we have a perfect opportunity to decide to 'do our duty as human beings' by helping the people of Haiti as they recover from this terrible earth quake. The US Federal Government is providing information on legitimate and safe ways to donate to help the people of Haiti. Click here for more information.

January 15, 2010 at 02:06 PM

Mark said...

This is a very important story. It reminds us how awful humanity can be and how some can stand up in the face of evil.

January 17, 2010 at 08:42 AM said...

Something I read about Miep that gave me pause was that she did not read any of Anne's diary before locking it away. Had she read it, she would have had to BURN IT (to keep her activities secret). Makes you think.

January 17, 2010 at 11:03 AM

amanda said...

Love your post. I had the opportunity to meet and interview Miep in college. It was a life-changing day as I have always been inspired (sometimes even a bit obsessed) with the Diary of Anne Frank. She signed my copy of the book and I keep it in a fire safe box because it is truly one of the my most valuable possessions. She was a lovely woman, ordinary who CHOSE to be extraordinary.

January 20, 2010 at 09:52 AM

Unknown said...

Miep saved Anne's story...but she also completed it with her fight to keep the family safe and to continue to bring to mind the family through her own story. She constantly put the focus away from herself which of itself is heroic, but without those actions (all of them) there would not be the complete story and the example of unconditional love from one human being to another.