Miep Gies entered history without wanting to. She did what many others were too afraid to do: she risked her freedom, her life, in her determination to save Jews from deportation and death. From 1942 to '44, Gies, who died Jan. 11 at 100, helped shelter and feed Anne Frank and her family in an attic in Amsterdam, where at that time Jews were being branded, humiliated and condemned just because they were Jews. Her life remains a moral example for millions to follow.
I met Gies much later and was impressed by her sincerity, the simplicity of her comments and the moving quality of her smile. Calm, soft and reserved, she radiated nobility and strength of character. She talked little and quietly, reflecting on the significance of every word. When speaking of the past, she seemed to relive it.
Naturally, I knew much about her life. Anne's immortal diary, which Gies found and gave to Otto Frank after the war, was filled with praise for her devotion and sacrifice.
I asked her where she had found the courage to defy the Gestapo during the dark days of the occupation, and she protested. "I did nothing heroic or extraordinary," she said. "Human beings were in peril, and I had to care for them." But for the Franks, she represented all that is good and generous. She was the incarnation of hope.
Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, is a Nobel Peace Prizewinning professor and author