Buried under this week’s news about a monumental ego leaving American Idol was the passing of a monumental human being.
You probably don’t need me to tell you who Simon Cowell is. He’s a one-man media juggernaut. Miep Gies, on the other hand, was a little old lady. Little, as in barely five feet tall; old, as in 100.
Simon has become one of the richest people in show business by being rude to the poor schlumps who lurch across the Idol stage, pathetically hoping to become a star.
Miep lived quietly in a three-room apartment in an obscure town in Holland but was famous in her own way.
It is my fervent hope that long after Simon has faded into obscurity, the memory of Miep Gies and her remarkable story will endure.
During Word War II, Miep made a decision that gave history a little nudge, allowing a tiny voice of goodness to emerge from the immense evil of the Holocaust. Miep and her husband and several others were the non-Jews who decided to risk everything and hide Anne Frank and her family from the Nazi Final Solution. And when Anne was captured and transported to the death camps, Miep retrieved and preserved her diary.
When Anne’s father, the only surviving member of the Frank family, returned to Amsterdam after the war, Miep gave him the diary; it has gone on to sell more than 30 million copies in 67 languages.
Thanks to Miep Gies, the millions who were murdered by Hitler have a human face. Today, as memories dim and die, good (barely) manages to hold its own in the daily struggle with evil in the insidious form of Holocaust denial – thanks to Miep Gies.
While she spent her life bearing witness to the courage and humanity of Anne Frank, Miep underrated her own courage. “I am not a hero”, she said many times. If people see her as a heroine, she feared, they will doubt their own capacity to do what she did. And she did it, she said, because it seemed necessary at the time.
For most of my life I’ve wondered what I would consider “necessary” in the same situation. I worry that, like millions, I would have just kept my head down, or worse, wrote enthusiastic pro-Nazi columns. It’s a lot easier to be craven than brave.
But I like to think if a tiny woman, an ordinary secretary, could stand tall and courageous in the face of evil, so could I. Could you? As long as we take heart and remember Miep Gies and her extraordinary story, there’s hope for both of us.
Miep Gies died Monday night. She was my hero.