Miep Gies hid the Frank family for years, helped them survive, and even saved Anne Frank's diary from falling into Nazi hands.
In 1933, Hermine Santruschitz began working for Opekta, a European spice and pectin company that specialized in manufacturing jam.
It was there that she met the man who would become her husband, Jan Gies, and her boss Otto Frank, a businessman who had moved from Germany to the Netherlands to save his family from Nazi prosecution. Over the years, Hermine Santruschitz became close with Otto, and the rest of the Frank family – particularly his daughter, Anne.
Almost everyone knows of Anne, of course, as her story of living a life in hiding has become one of the world’s most famous books. However, her harrowing story is one that may never have been heard, if not for Hermine Santruschitz, who most people know as Miep Gies.
It is thanks to Miep Gies that The Diary of Anne Frank exists today, as after the Frank family was found Gies retrieved the book from the family’s shelter above the Opekta factory. However, though Anne became a household name after the war, and gained notoriety as one of the most famous Jewish citizens, Miep Gies’ contribution to her story seemed to have been forgotten.
Though she is known for her assistance in helping other’s escape prosecution, Gies was on the run herself.
Born in Austria, which was suffering from a foot shortage following World War I, Gies was moved to Holland to live with a foster family when she was just 11 years old. A few years later the family moved to Amsterdam, where they stayed for many years.
Geis was a straight-A student, who displayed an enthusiasm for dancing, and exploring the town with her friends. She described herself as having a rich social life, and as being a part of many clubs and activities.
However, she began to face difficulty after refusing to join the local Nazi support group. The Nazi party had begun to gain traction in Gaaspstraat, where Gies and her foster family lived, and many of Geis’ friends had taken an interest in their beliefs. However, when she was approached, Geis declined to join – a devastating choice for her.
Upon her refusal, the Nazi party had her passport invalidated, and she was ordered to return to her hometown of Vienna within ninety days. At the time, Germany had annexed Austria, putting it under Nazi control, and making Geis a German citizen.
Fearing deportation to a German-controlled area, Geis was forced to marry her fiance – an Amsterdam native – sooner than expected, to gain Dutch citizenship.
Eventually, Gies began working for Opekta, a German-based company with multiple offices in the Netherlands. Her boss, Otto Frank was a recent German transplant, who had brought his family to the Netherlands to escape Nazi prosecution.
Gies immediately took to her kind boss and began to help assimilate him and his family into Dutch society. Before long, Miep Gies and her husband Jan were regular guests at the Frank home.
When the Germans invaded the Netherlands it was only natural that Gies would want to help. Along with three other Opekta employees, Gies successfully hid the Frank’s, and another German family the van Pels, in the spare rooms above the offices.
For two years Gies kept quiet about her stowaways, deciding not even to tell her foster family about what she was doing. Along with the famous Franks, Gies and her husband also hid an anti-Nazi university student in the annex above their apartment, a few blocks from the Opekta offices.
With help from her husband, Geis was able to keep the families safe through extreme measures. She would visit multiple food markets and supply stores a day, never purchasing more than one grocery bag full of things at a time. She would avoid spending an overt amount of money by using stolen food stamps procured by her husband, who was part of the Dutch resistance.
Before long, she had established a relationship with several black market suppliers who were able to get her goods for the families and had created a sort of routine for them. She had also managed to keep the other, unwitting employees at Opekta away from the secret annex, ensuring the families’ safety.
On Aug. 4, 1944, of course, disaster struck. The Opekta offices were raided, and Geis’ families were taken away. Gies herself visited several police stations after the families were taken, looking for them, even offering money in exchange for their release. Tragically, she was unsuccessful.
However, Gies was able to make one lasting contribution to the Franks’ story, by ensuring that it lived on through Anne’s diary. Before the authorities could search the annex above the offices where the families had been staying, Miep Gies broke in and took the pages of Anne’s diary.
She saved them through the duration of the war in a desk drawer, never reading them, as she had every intention of returning them to their rightful owner after her release if it came. Gies later remarked that had she read them she would have destroyed them immediately, as they had information in them that could have gotten her, her husband, her accomplices, and her black market suppliers killed.
After the end of the war, upon learning that Anne had perished in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Gies returned the pages to the sole survivor of the secret annex above the offices, Otto Frank. The Geis family eventually moved away from the apartment they’d been living in, along with Frank, who moved with them.
Fifty years after the Frank family was captured, Miep Gies received awards for her services to them. She was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, as well as the Wallenberg Medal by the University of Michigan. In 1995, she was knighted in the Order of Orange-Nassau, by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.
At the end of her life, Gies reflected on the time she’d spent on earth, and how she’d affected those around her.
“I am one hundred years old now. That is an admirable age, and I have even reached it in fairly good health,” she said. “So then it’s fair to say you’ve been fortunate, and being fortunate seems to be the red thread running through my life.”