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