Until I saw Ilargi’s lovely obit for Miep Gies, who helped hide Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis and who rescued Anne’s diary, I hadn’t realized that she had died at 100. I can only add that there is a life worth mourning, and Ilargi’s piece is well worth reading:
The Dutch language would be a hell of a lot poorer if not for the centuries of Jewish culture that enriched the country, and most of all Amsterdam. Rembrandt and Vermeer, and all of their 17th century peers, would not have created what they did without the Jews. The tulip bubble, well, perhaps, but the spice trade that made the city the center of the universe would never have happened without Amsterdam’s Jordaan people. And no, rich they were not. In fact, for most of them most of the time, they were the poorest of the poor.
And it’s all still there, the culture, the songs, the humor, the words. It’s just that the people are not. They were renditioned away.
Through the ages, Holland was a refuge for Jewish people from all over Europe. In the 1940’s, they were put on transport trains to camps, and 90% never came back, including Anne. The city center, and the Jordaan, may now be populated with well-to-do 21st century citizens, but if you take the time to stand still on one of the many bridges in the hood and you listen well, you can still feel the emptiness left behind by those who were forced to die like so much cattle.
And that, my friends, is my personal hinterland. That is me.
And don’t worry, I know about the Dutch part in the slave trade, and a 100,000 other despicable trades. My people are about as guilty as they come. And that is me too. But my people were also welcoming the Jews for centuries when they were cast out everywhere else.
History is a multi-pronged tool, a bird of many feathers and a beast of many moods. Nothing changed there, and nothing ever will. We are a blood-thirsty species, more, much more, than we are willing to allow. It will decide our way forward as it has our ways in the past. And we will not make it a pretty picture. We simply can’t. We’ll be cruel as can be. As we are.
But we will also have always another Anne Frank and another Miep Gies. One lived to be 15 years old, the other 100. Both saw, first-hand, more gratuitous violence than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes. There is some layer of comfort in there, and I hope you will forgive me for not being able to identify it off the bat. I’m just sure it’s there.
Here’s Miep Gies in her own words:
I am not a hero
‘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.
There is nothing special about me. I have never wanted special attention. I was only willing to do what was asked of me and what seemed necessary at the time.”