For two years in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, Miep Gies risked her own life on behalf of Anne Frank, the Jewish girl whose chronicle of hiding from the Germans in an attic, The Diary of a Young Girl, is one of the bestselling books of all time. While working as a secretary for Anne’s father, Otto, Gies helped his family – Anne, her sister Margot and Otto’s wife, Edith – in their hideaway above the office where Otto and Gies worked until the Nazis found the attic and sent the Franks to concentration camps, where all but Otto perished. This June 7 the Anne Frank Center USA (www.annefrank.com) will hold a gala in Manhattan to honor Anne in what would have been the 75th year of her life. Now 96, Gies talked about her friend with Elisabeth Feerick, the center’s executive director, for PEOPLE.
Gies asked 12-year-old Anne, her boss’s daughter, to take part in her 1941 wedding. By then the Nazis had already invaded.
On my wedding day Anne looked very smart in her princess-style coat and a matching hat. Her hair looked shiny, and I know how much care she always paid to it. We were happy to celebrate and forget our concerns. That said, none of us really believed that it would get as bad as it did.
The next year Anne’s sister Margot, 16, was ordered to a Nazi labor camp. The Franks hastily prepared to move to the hiding place Gies had helped to ready at Otto’s workplace.
At their apartment there was an undercurrent of near-panic, but few words were spoken. Henk [Gies’s husband] and I took piles and piles of clothes and shoes and hid them under our raincoats. Early the next morning I biked over to the Franks’ flat. Anne stood wide-eyed in her nightgown. It was raining, but that was good for us. Margot and I pedaled at an even pace so that we would not arouse suspicion. When we arrived at the [office], she was in a state of shock. I led her up the stairway.
During after-hours visits to the attic, Gies often talked at length with Anne. A typical teenager, she matured quickly.
Anne was in a growth spurt, and her shoes no longer fit. One day I stumbled onto a pair of high-heeled red pumps, secondhand but in good condition. She was so happy. She was growing into a young woman, and yet she was so confined and had worries way beyond her age. Besides the war, she wanted so much to also talk about clothes and fashion – she loved glamor. I don’t believe Anne ever lost hope, though [she] worried. She always had so many questions and longings to be free. Apparently in response to a tip, the Nazis searched the building and found the Franks on Aug. 4, 1944.
I had gone up to get the family’s shopping list. I promised Anne I would return and stay for a good talk. Around 11 o’clock a man came in with a revolver, pointing it at [Gies and her coworkers]. We were petrified. I heard a German soldier speaking sharply in the hallway. He snarled and cursed uncontrollably, shouting terrible words and saying that I was a traitor. I had no idea what was going on in the rest of the building. Then, along the corridor and down the wooden stairway, I could hear the footsteps of my friends. I could tell that they were coming down like beaten dogs.
Not knowing whether the Germans would return, Miep, her husband and others went into the ransacked attic.
Amidst the chaos I immediately noticed the red-orange cloth-bound diary of Anne’s. I knew how precious her diary was to her. I told [a coworker] to help me pick up all of Anne’s writings, but we were very fearful the Nazi officer would return and catch us. I put the diary in my desk drawer. I was never tempted to read it because it was private. I believed Anne would return and I could give it back to her.
Gies, who had a child of her own after the war, never saw Anne again. But Otto Frank appeared at the office about a month after V-E day.
Otto shared a letter from the Red Cross that confirmed Margot and Anne had died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. I said nothing but walked to my desk and handed him his daughter’s writings. Otto had to convince me several times before I would actually read them. It was simply too painful. Everything has been said, and I have written many things about her. But, after all this time, it is still extremely painful that Anne didn’t live – that none of them did.