11 January, 2010

"Imagine young people would grow up with the feeling that you have to be a hero to do your human duty"

Miep Gies, the woman credited with hiding Anne Frank's family and supplying them with food and medicines for two years has died in Amsterdam. She was 100 years old.

Gies helped the Frank family and four friends hide in an annex behind Otto Frank's business. After the Nazis discovered the hiding place she kept Anne Frank's diary and other personal family papers in a safe. The Diary of Anne Frank is one of the most read novels in history and has inspired several theater and movie adaptions.

Gies never accepted the praise bestowed on her internationally. Instead she insisted that she acted only as another human being ought to have acted, given the circumstances. She vigorously rejected the label "hero," explaining that the word is not applicable to those who perform their "human duty."
In this post-9/11 era when the word hero is tossed about like empty, dried-up cornstalks in the wind, her candor is refreshing. The woman who protected Jews from the Nazi horrors in the Netherlands yet who never sought recognition for her actions while endangering her own life, meets our definition of a hero. The city worker who saves a kitten from a storm drain is not a hero.

Perhaps Gies' greatest legacy will be a rediscovery of "human duty," "decency," and "modest." Those values have gone into hiding in our current political climate. She outlived the entire Frank family although ultimately she could not save them from the death camps. She will be remembered for saving the diary of a solitary 15 year-old Dutch girl named Anne, the foundation of a book that exposed the terror of Nazism on Europe's citizens, a horror cruelly expressed in the mass murder of millions.

Bookstores and libraries around the world now carry the message of humanity, of Gies' own actions which threatened exposure and death at the hands of the SS. She will live so long as there are books, those rare but special books written by the humble and which illuminate the "human duty."
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