Digital history & historiography

The Helpers of Anne Frank - Recontextualising the Rescue of Dutch Jews

This paper sets out to recontextualise the memory of rescue as it pertains to Dutch Jewry during the Holocaust, by focusing on the helpers of Anne Frank and the other Jews in hiding in the Secret Annex. Much in the same way as perceptions of Jews in hiding have been decisively shaped by the story of Anne Frank, not only in the Dutch public imagination but arguably globally, so too the image of help, at least in the Western European and Anglosaxon world, has been considerably shaped by the story of two of the five helpers, Miep and Jan Gies, even if the support they provided to the onderduikers in the Secret Annex could ultimately not prevent discovery. The question of help, as well as the ultimate betrayal, of the onderduikers are linked to the broader question of the role of the Dutch population during the Holocaust. Within that context the Anne Frank story can and has indeed been used to provide both a stereotypical image of Gentile betrayal as well as an idealized and, arguably, romanticized image of Gentile help.

In this paper I will trace the ways in which the image of help and rescue of Dutch Jews was shaped by the story of, especially, Miep Gies and analyse the ways in which her story resonated in the Netherlands as well as abroad. Important moments in this regard were the recognition of Miep Gies and the other helpers as Righteous Among the Nations in 1972, and the global publication of Miep Gies’ memoirs in 1987. I will frame this analysis within the broader historical context of 1) help provided to Jews in hiding in the Netherlands and the question of how representative the ‘helpers of Anne Frank’ were, and 2) the extent to which a focus on a few key individuals obscures the more complex reality of how rescue functioned in the first place.

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