'I wasn't bravest of our many heroes,' says Anne Frank's last helper at 100
ANNE Frank called them "the helpers" – the people who courageously provided food, books and good cheer while she and her family hid from the Nazis for two years in a tiny attic.
Tomorrow, the last surviving helper, Miep Gies, celebrates her 100th birthday. Looking back over the events that led to the family's capture – immortalised in the teenager's extraordinarily articulate diaries saved by Ms Gies for posterity – she says she won more credit for helping the Franks than she deserved.
It is almost as if she had tried to save all the Jews of occupied Holland, Ms Gies said yesterday. "This is very unfair," she protested. "So many others have done the same or even far more dangerous work."
After the Frank family's hiding place was raided in 1944, it was Ms Gies who gathered up Anne's scattered papers and notebooks. She locked them, unread, in a desk drawer to await the teenager's return. The next thing she saw was Anne's name in a German list of people on a cattle train to Auschwitz.
In a brief, heart-rending post-script by her father Otto, readers discover that the vivacious teenager died of typhus in the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen, seven months after her arrest and two weeks before British and Canadian troops liberated the camp.
Ms Gies had given the collection to Mr Frank, the only survivor among the eight people who hid in the concealed attic of the canalside warehouse. He published his daughter's diary in 1947, and it was released in English in 1952 as The Diary of a Young Girl. Retitled The Diary of Anne Frank, it was the first book connected with the Holocaust to win popular appeal, and has sold tens of millions of copies in dozens of languages. How proud and astonished Anne Frank would have been had she – who so ardently dreamed of being a writer one day – known her diary would become one of the most read books in the world.
As she looked forward to a quiet birthday with her son and three grandchildren, Ms Gies paid tribute to the "unnamed heroes" who helped Dutch Jews escape the net during the five years of Nazi occupation.
"I would like to name one, my husband Jan. He was a resistance man who said nothing, but did a lot," she said. "During the war, he refused to say anything about his work, only that he might not come back one night. People like him existed in thousands but were never heard."
Jan Gies died in 1993. People like him and his wife fought a lonely battle in the Netherlands; historians say anti-Nazi resistance was light in the face of many collaborators willing to turn them in.
After the war, Ms Gies worked for Otto Frank as he edited the diary, then devoted herself to talking about the diary and answering letters from around the world. After Mr Frank's death in 1980, she continued to campaign against Holocaust deniers and to rebut allegations that the diary was a forgery.
Though she ended her travels years ago and rarely gives interviews, her son Paul Gies says his mother "still receives a sizeable amount of mail which she masters together with a longtime family friend".
In 1997 Ms Gies suffered a stroke, which has slightly affected her speech, but she is generally in good health, her son said. She spends her days at the flat where she has lived since 2000, reading newspapers and following television news.
A new edition of her 1987 book Anne Frank Remembered is due to be published this year. Ms Gies was born in Austria, and came to the Netherlands at the age of 13 to escape food shortages and live with a foster family.
In 1933, she was hired as an office assistant in Otto Frank's spice business. In July 1942 Mr Frank asked her to help hide his family in the annexe above the company's warehouse and to bring them food and supplies.
The family, joined by four other Jews, hid for 25 months before they were betrayed. Repeated investigations by police and historians have failed to definitively identify who turned them in.
During an interview conducted over the internet in 1997 with schoolchildren all over the world, Ms Gies remembered the fragile, talkative, gregarious and curious teenage girl she had tried to rescue. "Anne was the one asking me questions all the time, particularly about what was going on in the world outside the hiding place. I was 20 years older than she was, but it was like talking to a much older person than a teenager."
Ms Gies has also spoken in the past of her "tremendous disappointment" that her friends should have been arrested so close to the end of the war, when the Allies were fewer than 250 miles from Amsterdam.
OF THE Jewish population of 140,000 in the Netherlands before the Second World War, 107,000 were arrested and deported. The Red Cross says only 5,200 survived the war.
Like the Franks, about 24,000 Dutch Jews went into hiding, of whom 8,000 were hunted down or betrayed in exchange for a bounty.
Miep and the other helpers could have been shot if they had been caught hiding Jews. But those caught were commonly sentenced to hard labour.
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