In the National Geographic series “A Small Light,” now available for streaming on Hulu, Jewish actor Liev Schreiber portrays Otto Frank, asking Miep Gies, played by Bel Powley, a critical question. Will she risk her life to provide food and medical supplies for the Frank family once they go into hiding?
“Don’t answer right away,” he instructs her. Miep answers the she will help, stepping into a pivotal role without even consulting her husband, Jan.
Inevitably, when discussing the Holocaust, the name Anne Frank and her remarkable diary come up. Tragically, after Miep risked her life for two years aiding the family, someone betrayed them.
The consequence was devastating — Anne, her sister Margot, and their mother lost their lives, while the father Otto survived. Miep was also able to escape due to her connections with a German officer from Vienna, her hometown.
The series kicks off with a witty exchange between Schreiber’s Otto and Powley’s Miep, where Otto challenges Miep to perfect a jam recipe. This seemingly mundane interaction ultimately holds a deeper meaning.
The series also sheds light on the often-overlooked aspects of the Franks’ life in hiding. For instance, Anne is upset she wasn’t allowed to bring her cat, and she delights in a cake shared by Peter van Pels, the son of Frank family’s friends who also lived in the hiding place.
These moments were ways for those in hiding to remain human, despite the constant threat they lived under. They couldn’t move much during the day, for fear of making noise and being discovered, and they couldn’t even flush a toilet as people might hear them.
Margot is played with precision by Ashley Brooke, whose grandmother survived the Holocaust. In one particularly tense scene, Margot is crying as she and Miep approach a checkpoint, and Margot doesn’t have proper papers. If she can’t get her emotions in check, the consequences could be disastrous.
Schreiber, who played Jewish resistance fighter Zus Bielski in the Holocaust film, “Defiance,” is spectacular as Otto Frank, who moved his family to Holland hoping that Hitler would not reach there.
Desperate to protect his family, Otto reaches out to his friend Nathan Straus, the head of the U.S. Housing Authority and owner of Macy’s, for financial assistance and help in obtaining a visa. In a letter, he writes: “It is for the sake of the children mainly that we have to care for. Our own fate is of less importance. You are the only person I know that I can ask.”
While the money would not have been a problem, ultimately a visa was not obtained. “We have to get out but there’s nowhere to go,” Otto says, before deciding to go in hiding.
“A Small Light” notably highlights the courage of Miep Gies, a Catholic woman who made extraordinary sacrifices. Miep, born Hermine Santrouschitz in 1909, moved from Vienna to Amsterdam in 1924, working for Otto at a company called Opekta.
She married Jan Gies and the couple lived near the Franks. Miep became an integral figure in the Franks’ lives, bringing them food and supplies while they hid in the Secret Annex, located above Otto’s office.
The series doesn’t shy away from portraying the brutal reality. On August 4, 1944, Dutch police and SS officers arrested the eight people in hiding including two workers. Miep found Anne’s diary, written during her 761 days in hiding, and gave it to Otto in May of 1945. The diary was published in 1947.
The importance of Anne Frank’s diary cannot be overstated. Though she was one among countless victims of the Holocaust, her diary endured, allowing subsequent generations to forge a deeply personal connection with her story and ask themselves how far they would go to protect another person.
Originally Published Jul 6, 2023 11:43AM EDT