“I am not a hero. I stand at the end of the 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.
More than twenty thousand Dutch people helped to hide Jews and others in need of hiding during those years. I willingly did what I could to help. My husband did as well. It was not enough.” (from the prologue.)
This is not a new book, but one of those to which I return. I even like holding it in my hands and just looking at the name of the woman whose journey it reveals: Miep Gies.
Miep is the woman who, with her husband Jan Gies, helped hide Anne Frank from the Nazis. Like so many young Jewish girls growing up I was more than a little obsessed with stories from the Holocaust; especially The Diary of Anne Frank. At the time she wrote in her diary, she was probably only a bit older than I was at the time I read the book, so, of course, I walked in her shoes. It certainly didn’t seem long enough ago to not think about her as me, and me as her.
Was there a Jewish child growing up anywhere in the world who didn’t think what if? Some, I imagine, averted their thoughts from the events of WWII and pretended it was all as far away as the Roman Empire. Others, went through life compulsively reading about it, breathing the lives of those who’d lived through it and those who had lost their lives.
On top of the obvious victims, were the other victims—those who were forced to witness the atrocity, those who participated. After visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, and I paraphrase here, what my husband and I remembered most deeply, were the words of a audio-taped survivor. In speaking about his experience in a concentration camp, he related a story of being berated by a fellow internee for praying.
“Why are you thanking God?” he was asked.
“I am thanking him for not making me him,” the man said, pointing to a guard.
It is horror without relief to have been a slave, a concentration camp internee, and a victim in Darfur. It is another horror, to have been the victimizer.
Books like this, they always make me wonder, given the circumstances, on which side would I end up? We read the books, we watch the movies, and we assume we’d have the courage of the righteous, but I believe it bears remembering how brave people like Miep Gies had to be, and to remember all the Miep and Jams out there today. I pray that given the circumstances, we’d follow their path.
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Women for Women
New England Home for Little Wanderers