Sunday, January 31, 2010

Miep Gies and uncommon valour

Photo: Anne Frank Museum, Amsterdam

Miep Gies, shelterer of the Frank family, died on January 11th, aged 100.

The Economist often publishes obituaries on remarkable people who seldom rank in public consciousness alongside sports "legends" and Hollywood bimbos.

The magazine says in its current issue: "BY HER own account, Miep Gies did nothing extraordinary. All she did was bring food, and books, and news—and, on one fabulous day, red high-heeled shoes—to friends who needed them. It was nothing dramatic. But she also bought eight people time, and in that time one of her charges—a teenage girl called Anne Frank, the recipient of the shoes—wrote a diary of life in the “Annexe”. In these four rooms, above the office of Anne’s father, Otto, where Mrs Gies worked as a secretary, eight Jews hid for 25 months in Amsterdam in 1942-44."

In 1984, at the University of Michigan, Miep gave a lecture, named in honour of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who had saved the lives of an estimated 200,000 Jews in Hungary by issuing them  Swedish certificates of protection.

When her employer, Otto Frank, asked her if she was prepared to take  responsibility for his family in hiding, she answered “yes” without  hesitation. “It is our human duty to help those who are in trouble,”  Miep said in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “I could foresee many, many sleepless nights and a miserable life if I had refused to help the Franks. Yes, I have wept countless times when I thought of my dear friends. But still, I am happy that these are not tears of remorse for refusing to assist those in trouble.”

Miep tried to rescue the Frank family after they were taken from the attic, attempting to bribe the Austrian SS officer who had arrested them. Miep even went to Nazi headquarters to negotiate a deal, fully aware that this bold move could cost her life.

Last October, an asteroid between the planets Mars and Jupiter became known as Miep Gies, in honor of the Dutch woman.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) said it wanted to draw attention to the steadfast courage of the then 100-year-old last surviving helper of the Frank family.

The asteroid, which was was discovered in 1972 and would become known worldwide as Miep Gies, consists of rock and has a diameter of around 7 kilometres.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a double nuclear survivor, died on January 4th, aged 93 But in 2005 his son Katsutoshi died of cancer at 59, killed by the radiation he had received as a baby.

The Economist wrote: "WHEN he had stopped crying, Tsutomu Yamaguchi would tell you why he called his book of poems “'The Human Raft'. It had to do with the day he forgot to take his personal name-stamp to work, and had to get off the bus. Much was on his mind that morning. He had to pack his bags to leave Hiroshima after a three-month assignment as an engineer in the Mitsubishi shipyard; there were goodbyes to say at the office, then a 200-mile train journey back to Nagasaki to his wife Hisako and Katsutoshi, his baby son."

Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on a business trip when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945. He was getting off a streetcar when the so-called Little Boy device detonated above the city.

Yamaguchi said he was less than two miles away from ground zero that day. His eardrums were ruptured, and his upper torso was burned by the blast, which destroyed most of the city’s buildings and killed 80,000 people.

He spent the night in a Hiroshima bomb shelter and returned to Nagasaki, his hometown, the following day. The second bomb, known as Fat Man, was dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, killing 70,000 people.

Yamaguchi was in his Nagasaki office, telling his boss about the Hiroshima blast, when “suddenly the same white light filled the room,” he said in an interview last March with the UK newspaper The Independent.

“I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima,” he said.

Marek Edelman, the last military commander of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, died on October 2nd, aged 90.

The Economist wrote: "Going to the gas chamber or the mass grave with quiet, considered dignity, like many of the residents of the Warsaw ghetto, was another way: far more admirable and more difficult, he thought, than running through random bullets as he did. But it was not for him. Only by dying as publicly as possible, loudly and with his gun blazing, could he let the world know what the Nazis were doing to the Jews in Poland."