Anne Frank Remembered
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 12 Jun 2011
At least 10 million people perished in the Holocaust; about 6 million of whom were Jews. Whenever the topic of the Holocaust was brought up, particularly about Jews in hiding, the popular photograph of Anne Frank taken in May 1942 would often appear in my mind. Her story was so typical of those who remained in hiding in German-occupied Europe, but yet through the legacy she left via her surviving diary, she had put a face to the otherwise anonymous suffering. It had been a while since I had picked up a book about her, so I borrowed Anne Frank Remembered from the local library to refresh my memory, all the while checking out this book that I had heard of but never had the chance to read.
Ostensibly a biography of Anne Frank, the book was actually the memoir of Hermine "Miep" Gies, an Austrian-born and naturalized-Dutch woman who took care of the Frank family when they went into hiding. I was ever so slightly disappointed of the fact that the publisher or the authors chose to misrepresent with the title, probably to spur sales, but I soon found the content to be excellent and soon forgot all about the title. Her story began with her journey to neutral Netherlands during WW1, taken in by a Dutch family in kindness. Remaining in the country after the war, she came to work for Otto Frank's jam-making business Opekta in 1933. When Germany occupied the Netherlands in 1940, the Frank family began planning to hide in the attic of the Opekta building, and Gies, along with her husband Jan Gies, was there every step of the way to help them move into hiding and to make sure those in hiding had food, various supplies, and most importantly, companionship. She showed the same kindness toward those in hiding as she had received more than two decades prior. While Anne Frank Remembered did not actually devote itself to Anne Frank, it did provide many glimpses of the young girl through the eyes of someone who came in near daily contact with her; everything from Anne Frank's optimistic attitude to the symbolic importance of the chestnut tree in the backyard to Anne Frank were discussed. Meanwhile, Gies' detailed narration provided an imagery of life in hiding; while flushing a toilet after use had long been taken for granted for most of us, Anne Frank and the others in the Opekta attic could not do so during office hours lest the sound provoked curiosity among the office workers in the floors below.
Like many other titles reviewed on WW2DB lately, I had reviewed this book in its audio format. Barbara Rosenblat's reading was clear and with a slight European accent which I assumed to be Dutch. The pace of her reading sped up at passages of action, and her voice became calm during quieter times, making her an excellent and dramatic storyteller. This audio book was released in 2009, and it included a new epilogue that contained new information from what had been unveiled since the original edition, such as the revealing of the actual names of those involved (Anne Frank's diary made use of pseudonyms, and Miep Gies continued this practice in the book) and a discussion on the inconsistencies between what she thought had happened and how the various dramatizations told the story.
Although Miep Gies' modesty led her to repeatedly deny being called a hero, citing that she was only doing what many other Dutch were doing at the very same time, her kindness and sense of righteousness left no other word to describe her but that. Ghost writer Alison Leslie Gold did a great job helping Gies tell her story, and, especially considering that Gies had only recently passed away in 2010, I was glad Gold was able to convince the initially-reluctant Gies to embark on this project so that later generations would know of her and of her selflessness. Anne Frank Remembered made an excellent companion to Anne Frank's diary, but on its own it would be a great story of the Holocaust, too.
And in case you had wondered, the answer would be yes, I did purposely choose to post this book review on Anne Frank's birthday, 12 Jun.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939