Above, Miep Gies and I in her apartment in Holland as she neared her hundredth (2009) birthday. Her husband Jan had died in 1993. Otto Frank was long gone (1980) as were most of her peers who had experienced the war years with her and the hiding time including the hunger winter of 1944-45 when so many in Holland died of starvation. Miep’s mind was clear, her health relatively good, we had many happy visits – eating Chinese food followed by chocolate pudding for desert, also raw herring from herring stands, a Dutch specialty Miep dearly loved and I didn’t, though I pretended to, to please her. We took walks, watched snooker championships on TV, discussed letters she’d received from children all over the world and how she would reply to their questions. My bi-yearly visits usually lasted a week. When I would reluctantly leave, Miep always waved until I was past the school, and rounded the corner, see below.
Following, an excerpt from our book Anne Frank Remembered first published in 1987 by Simon & Schuster, describing Mieps arrival in The Netherlands from Vienna, Austria. She was 11 years old, World War I had just ended. Because of poverty and privation caused by the war, Miep was near starvation and ill when a Dutch Workers Organization sponsored (and saved) her and other Austrian children by bringing them to Holland, feeding them, caring for them, until they were again in robust health. We all know that anger and resentment breeds anger and resentment. In Mieps case, kindness and generosity bred kindness and generosity. Below, Hermine Santroschitz at age 12, who around this time was given the Dutch nickname “Miep”:
But Amsterdam was not my native city. I was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1909. When I was five years old, the First World War began…I remember very little about those days, except that two uncles who lived with us had to go to war, and much was made of this…I was not the strongest child, and because of the serious food shortages during the war, I had become undernourished and sick…Because of a program that had been set up by foreign working people for hungry Austrian children, a plan was devised that might rescue me from my fate. I was to be sent with other Austrian workers’ children to the faraway country called the Netherlands to be fed and revitalized.
It was winter – always bitter in Vienna – December of 1920, and I was bundled up in whatever my parents could find and taken to the cavernous Vienna railway station. There we waited long, tiring hours, during which we were joined by many other sickly children….A card was hung around my neck. On it was printed a strange name, the name of people I had never met.
The train was filled with many children like me, all with cards around their necks. Suddenly, the faces of my parents were no longer in sight anywhere and the train had begun to move. All the children were scared and apprehensive about what was to become of us. Some were crying. Most of us had never even been outside our streets, certainly never outside Vienna. I felt too weak to observe much, but found the chugging motion of the train made me sleepy. I slept and woke. The trip went on and on and on.
It was pitch-black, the middle of the night, when the train stopped and we were shaken awake and led off the train. The sign beside the still-steaming train said Leiden.
Speaking to us in a totally foreign language, people took us into a large, high-ceilinged room and sat us on hard-backed wooden chairs. All the children were in long rows, side by side. My feet didn’t reach the floor. I felt very, very sleepy.
Opposite the exhausted, sick children crowded a group of adults. Suddenly, these adults came at us in a swarm and began to fumble with our cards, reading off the names. We were helpless to resist the looking forms and fumbling hands.
A man, not very big but very strong-looking, read my tag. “Ja,” he said firmly, and took my hand in his, helping me down from the chair. He led me away. I was not afraid and went with him willingly.
We walked through the town, past buildings that had very different shapes from those of Viennese buildings I had seen. The moon was shining down, creamy, luminous. It was clear weather. The shining moonlight made it possible to see. I was intently looking for where we were going.
I saw that we were walking away from the town. There were no more houses; there were trees. The man began to whistle. I became angry. He must be a farmer, I thought. He must be whistling for his dog to come. I was desperately frightened of big dogs. My heart sank.
However, we kept on walking and no dog came, and suddenly more houses appeared. We came to a door. It opened and we went upstairs. A woman with an angular face and soft eyes stood there. I looked into the house, past a stairway landing, and saw heads of many children staring down at me. The woman took me by the hand into another room and gave me a glass of frothy milk. Then she guided me up the stairs.
All the children were gone. The woman took me into a small room. It contained two beds. In one bed was a girl my age. The woman took off all my layers of clothes, removed the bow from my hair, and put me between the covers in the center of the other bed. Warmth enfolded me. My eyelids dropped shut. Immediately, I was asleep.
I will never forget that journey.
The next morning the same woman came to the room, dressed me in clean clothes, and took me downstairs. There at the big table sat the strong man, the girl my age from the bedroom, and four boys of all different ages; all the faces that had stared at me the night before now looked curiously at me from around the table. I understood nothing of what they said and they understood nothing of what I said, until the oldest boy, who was studying to be a teacher, began to use the bits of German he had learned in school to translate simple things for me. He became my interpreter.
Despite the language problem, all the children were kind to me. Kindness, in my depleted condition, was very important to me. It was medicine as much as the bread, the marmalade, the good Dutch milk and butter and cheese, the toasty temperature of the warm rooms. And, ahh, the little chocolate flakes knowns as “hailstones” and other chocolate bits called “little mice” they taught me to put on thickly buttered bread-treats I’d never imagined before….