Way back in early January, I began listening to an audiobook, Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family by Miep Gies with Alison Leslie Gold. As the subtitle indicates, Miep is one of the people who helped to hide the Franks during their now-famous exile during the Holocaust. Despite already knowing the basic story, I was absolutely riveted by this compelling personal account of the events surrounding the Franks’ hiding, from a whole new perspective. Toward the end of the book, my audio suddenly quit (a defective download), so I quickly requested a replacement from the library. After waiting a month for the audio, I gave up and requested the book and was finally able to finish this remarkable memoir (with the added bonus of photos).
Miep was an immigrant to the Netherlands. She’d been born in Austria, and at age 10, sick and undernourished from food shortages during WWI, was sent with other Austrian children on a train to the Netherlands, where she then lived with an adoptive Dutch family. As a young woman in Amsterdam, Miep got a job at Otto Frank’s company that supplied jam-making supplies to housewives. She quickly bonded with Mr. Frank and his wife and their two adorable daughters and soon became a close family friend (as did her boyfriend and then husband, Jan, known as Henk in this book). Miep describes those joyful days of a job she loved, colleagues she enjoyed being with, and many happy dinners at the Franks’ house on Saturday nights, as she watched Anne grow up.
When the 1940’s arrived with rumors of horrifying Nazi activities coming from Germany, the friends began to worry because the Franks were Jewish. By 1942, Germany had already invaded Holland – something the Dutch thought would never happen – and Jews were being taken away. Mr. and Mrs. Frank realized that their family needed to go into hiding to protect themselves and especially their daughters, and they asked Miep and Henk for their help, as well as help from other trusted colleagues at work.
In July 1942, the Franks went into hiding, along with another family, in four small rooms at the back of their office building, on the upper floors and behind a door concealed by a bookcase. For more than two years, eight people lived in that small space together, never going outside. They relied heavily on their protectors, including Miep and Henk, to bring them food, help with repairs when needed, find necessary supplies on the black market, and to keep their existence a secret, even from others who worked in the office’s warehouse on the first floor. Obtaining enough food and other supplies was a constant problem, especially in the later years of the war. These brave people put themselves at great personal risk to protect their friends.
However, in the prologue to this book, Miep says:
“I am not a hero. I stand at the end of a very long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did or more – much more – during those dark and terrible times years ago, but always like yesterday in the hearts of those of us who bear witness. Never a day goes by that I do not think of what happened then.”
And she concludes the prologue with:
“My story is a story of very ordinary people during extraordinarily terrible times. Times the like of which I hope with all my heart will never, never come again. It is for all of us ordinary people all over the world to see to it that they do not.”
Just those two short passages from the prologue put a lump in my throat. This was a powerful, compelling book, especially when listened to on audio. The narrator, Barbara Rosenblat, does a wonderful job. She has the perfect accent so that it sounds as if Miep herself is sitting next to you on a sofa, telling you her remarkable story. I was completely captivated. So, I was understandably frustrated when my audio quit unexpectedly; however, it all worked out in the end because the book itself had a bunch of photographs in the center – of Miep and the rest of the office staff, of Anne and her family, and of most of the people that Miep refers to in her story. Besides, as I finished reading the book, I could still hear Miep’s voice (really, the narrator’s) in my head.
This is not only the familiar story of Anne Frank in hiding, told from a different perspective. It is also Miep’s story, of a life just as fascinating (though less devastating) as Anne’s. Besides providing some unique insights into Anne as a younger child, Miep also tells of her own unusual childhood. We hear the story of ordinary citizens living in the midst of a horrible war. Miep and others like her watched many of their friends get taken away, struggled to feed themselves and their families (and in Miep’s case, the eight people in hiding she was responsible for), and lived in fear every moment of every day. This powerful, moving memoir of war and friendship is just as Miep says: “a story of ordinary people during extraordinarily terrible times.”
252 pages, Touchstone
Note: This memoir touched me so deeply that I felt compelled to re-read Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank to re-experience this story from Anne’s own words. I hadn’t read it since my own teen years, but it was just as moving and compelling as Miep’s memoir. Review to come later this week.
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The audio sample at these links is not of the narrator reading Miep’s words but of an interview at the start of the audio book with Alison Leslie Gold, the co-author.