She was 11 years old when her parents put her on a train and sent her to another country. She never returned.
After World War I, food was in short supply. A malnourish, quiet little girl named Miep left her family and hometown of Vienna, Austria. It was December 1920 when her parents decided to take advantage of a relief project for Austrian children. In order to keep her from starvation, Miep’s parents put her on the train to the Netherlands.
The Nieuwenburgs, a working-class family who already had five children of their own, took Meip as their foster daughter. Their love and adoration for her grew and grew. Two years later, she moved with her foster family to Amsterdam. When Miep turned 18, she started working as a typist. At this point, she’s been with the Nieuwenburgs for seven years. They are truly family. Six years later, she lost her job. Fortunately, her upstairs neighbor knew of another opportunity.
Miep worked at the newly establish Dutch branch of the German spice firm, Opekta. As soon as she had mastered the jam-making process, she was promoted to customer service. She was 24 when she began working for Opekta where the managing director was Otto Frank, a Jewish businessman who had recently relocated from Germany.
At the same time and probably the reason Otto relocated, dictator Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party took control of Germany and began banning Jewish people from holding professional jobs. Many Jewish businesses were destroyed. Otto Frank has a daughter named Anne.
After refusing to join a Nazi Women's association in Amsterdam, Miep’s passport was invalidated and she was ordered to be deported back to Austria. She has not lived in Austria for 13 years. As quickly as she could, she married her fiancé to obtain her Dutch citizenship and evade deportation. Miep’s fluency in Dutch and German helped the Frank family assimilate into Dutch society. Miep and her husband became regular guests at the Franks' home.
In 1939, Germany invaded Poland, sparking World War II. Other invasions followed, including the Netherlands in 1940. Jewish men, women, and children throughout the continent were now being sent to concentration camps.
Knowing his family was in danger, Otto Frank asked Miep to help hide his family. She became one of several people who hid the family in a secret apartment for more than two years. Facing prison or worse, she illegally bought meat and vegetables to sneak to the family. And she kept bringing in more Jewish people, including the family of Frank’s business partner and her own dentist. Miep and her husband were also hiding a Jewish student in their home. Every day, she saw trucks loaded with Jews heading to the railway station, en route to Nazi concentration camps. She did not tell anyone, not even her own foster parents, about the people in hiding.
When purchasing food, Miep avoided suspicion by visiting several different suppliers in a day. She never carried more than one shopping bag. To prevent the Opekta workers from becoming suspicious, she did not enter the hiding place during office hours.
On the morning of August 4,1944, (two years after the Frank’s went into hiding), Miep was confronted by a man with a gun commanding "Stay put! Don't move!" The families had been betrayed and the hiding place discovered. All of the Jews Miep had protected were arrested.
It seemed that it was all over but Miep was relentless. The next day, she went to the German police office to try to find the arrestees. She offered money to buy their freedom but did not succeed. Surprisingly, she was not arrested because the police officer who interrogated her was from Vienna, her birth town. She recognized his accent and told him they had the same hometown. He was amazed, then started pacing and cursing at her, finally deciding to let her go.
Before police officers could return to search the attic, Miep retrieved Anne’s diaries, hoping she’d one day be able to return them to her.
Her childhood shaped her for this. She would never have turned her back on anyone who needed protection and care like she was given from the Niewenburgs. She found the courage, resourcefulness, relentlessness that her foster family had given her.
When Otto returned with news of the death of his daughters, Miep stood to her feet, reached into her desk drawer and pulled out all of Anne’s diaries. When she handed them to Otto, she said:
“This is the legacy of your daughter.”
Miep is brave, courageous and resourceful. The thing I find most remarkable about her story is the intention with which she preserved the legacy of someone else’s daughter. She provided space for Anne Frank to tell her story. When we keep stories alive, we pass along hope, encouragement, inspiration, and even a challenge to become more.
Who’s legacy do you need to keep alive? What brave action will it require? How resourceful will you need to be?