Sainthood for Miep Gies

By Menachem Z. Rosensaft Adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School The question Roman Catholics throughout the world should … Continued

By Menachem Z. Rosensaft
Adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School

The question Roman Catholics throughout the world should be asking themselves is why Miep Gies was never made a saint.

Miep Gies, who died in Amsterdam at the age of 100, was one of the small group of Christians who risked their lives to hide Anne Frank and her family in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam for more than two years until they were betrayed to the Gestapo. Anne Frank and her sister Margot perished at Bergen-Belsen. Their mother died in Auschwitz. When Otto Frank returned to Amsterdam after the war, the sole survivors of his family, Miep Gies gave him his daughter’s diary which she had safeguarded after Anne’s deportation.

Miep Gies was born a Roman Catholic in Vienna. She surely exemplified the highest values of Christianity. She was knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, honored by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official authority for the commemoration of the Holocaust, and the German government. Her heroic attempt to save eight Jews surely qualifies as miraculous, as does her preservation of her young Jewish friend’s diary. Why, then, has the Vatican not deemed fit to put her on the road to sainthood? Why and how is she any less worthy than Pope Pius XII whose record with respect to the annihilation of European Jewry during the Holocaust remains shrouded in controversy? And yet it is Pius, not Miep Gies, whom Pope Benedict XVI wants to fast-track to sainthood.

While Pope Benedict maintains that Pius “secretly and silently” worked to save Jews, there is documentary evidence that the wartime Pope knew of the deportation of more than 1,000 Roman Jews in 1943 and made no effort to rescue them. He certainly did not publicly intercede on their behalf or, for that matter, on behalf of the millions of Jews who were being persecuted and murdered throughout Europe.

Contrast Pius’s silence with Miep Gies’s heroism. Which of them is the true saint?

Pius’s defenders argue that his failure to speak out was a matter of necessity, that confronting the Nazis directly would have been too dangerous. This puts him among the millions of bystanders, hardly a virtue or a badge of honor.

“As long as the archives of Pope Pius about the crucial period 1939 to 1945 remain closed, and until a consensus on his actions – or inaction – concerning the persecution of millions of Jews in the Holocaust is established, a beatification is inopportune and premature,” declared World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder. “While it is entirely a matter for the Catholic Church to decide on whom religious honors are bestowed, there are strong concerns about Pope Pius XII’s political role during World War II which should not be ignored.”

During the summer of 1942, a number of Jews approached Archbishop Jules-Géraud Saliège of Toulouse to ask him to intercede on behalf of Jewish refugees who were being deported from the Toulouse area to the detention camp of Drancy north of Paris. Among them was Emanuel Schlesinger, a refugee from Vienna. Accompanied by his daughter Elly – the mother of my friend Leah Modlin – Schlesinger implored the Archbishop to tell his priests, nuns and parishioners to help and, if necessary, hide the Jews in the archdiocese. As they left, Elly remembers Monseigneur Saliège telling them, “May God bless you.” On Sunday, August 23, 1942, priests in all churches in the archdiocese of Toulouse read a letter from the Archbishop in which he protested that Jewish men, women and children, fathers and mothers were being “treated like cattle” and “dispatched to unknown destinations.” “The Jews are men, the Jews are women,” Archbishop Saliège declared. “Foreigners are men, foreigners are women . . . . They are part of the human race. They are our brothers like so many others. A Christian may not forget this.”

What would have happened if Pope Pius had uttered similar words? How many priests throughout Poland, Hungary and Romania would have defied the Germans as a result? How many devout Catholics in these countries might have found the courage to hide a Jew? How many of the six million murdered Jews of Europe might have been saved?

A few days after Archbishop Saliège’s declaration, Emanuel Schlesinger, his wife and their daughter Elly fled to the Swiss border and, with the help of a Roman Catholic priest, were able to smuggle themselves into Switzerland. Like Miep Gies, this priest was a hero, and in saving three lives, he performed at least one miracle, if not three.

After the war, Pope Pius made Archbishop Saliège a Cardinal, but to the best of my knowledge, no steps were ever taken to have him declared a saint.

Perhaps the examples of Miep Gies and Archbishop Saliège will cause Pope Benedict to reconsider and delay Pius’s beatification until after the Vatican will have formally recognized the true Christian heroes of the Holocaust era, including Gies and Saliège.

And the rest of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, should hold Miep Gies up to our children and grandchildren as an authentic embodiment of saintliness.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft is Adjunct Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at Syracuse University College of Law, and Vice President of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

  • pdeany1234

    Miep Gies just died. How in the world could she be up for sainthood? It takes years and miracles to even be considered for this. I think using her saintly life to make some backhanded comment about Pius XII is ridiculous. There is no comparison here at all and you are just using our reverence for her deeds to question the Pope’s decision about beatification.

  • BobfromLI

    While sainthood is bestowed by the men of the Catholic Church on some of their own, and for their own reasons, it is up to all of us, as members of the human race, to look on Miep Gies as something far higher in stature: a civilized human being. Each of us, in a small way, has the ability each and every day to do something that is morally extending but few of us do. If we ever got to that level, we’d all live in a better place. Rest well, Miep Gies.

  • Alex511

    fr pdeany1234:>… I think using her saintly life to make some backhanded comment about Pius XII is ridiculous. There is no comparison here at all and you are just using our reverence for her deeds to question the Pope’s decision about beatification.Ms. Gies risked her own LIFE to save Jews. pius did NOT. Simple as that.

  • ThomasBaum

    Menachem Z. Rosensaft You wrote, “The question Roman Catholics throughout the world should be asking themselves is why Miep Gies was never made a saint.”You should know but maybe don’t that for the Roman Catholic Church to declare someone a Saint, first the person has to die and Miep Gies just recently died.Is this an oversight on your part?I am so thankful that God is our Judge and not our fellow human beings.See you and the rest of humanity in the Kingdom considering that God’s Plan is for ALL and God’s Will is for ALL to be saved and God’s Plan will come to Fruition.We sure can be a “judgmental” lot considering that even when we think we know “everything” about something, we still don’t.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    MIep Gies was a singular human being. When I read her memoirs, the one thing that struck me above all others was her modesty and humility, her love for the Frank family.Like the great French Protestant minister, Andre Trocme (may God rest his soul), she did what she did because she did not know she had a choice.She and Otto Frank remained very close until his death. For a long time, following the Shoah, he lived with her and her family.What a great spirit, she was! What a great hearted human being! The earth was blessed to have her for one hundred years. Maybe, now we can learn something from the remarkable life she lived.God rest your great, great soul, Miep Gies.

  • JustinB1

    Although Miep Gies should be revered like a saint, it shouldn’t matter whether or not she becomes one. The actions that she took to help Anne Frank and her family will always be remembered in the eyes of God.

  • willm2

    She’s been dead for less than 48 hours. How could she possibly be “up for sainthood” yet? This is silly.

  • twm1

    Apologists may point to technicalities concerning sainthood. But the important question is: why is Pius XII being proposed for sainthood, given his history of inaction. This Pope represents (at best) the “go along, get along” attitude that Gies heroically rejected at risk of her own life. Giving sainthood to this Pope sends the signal that “go along, get along” is OK. This is not the message that this or any other church should be sending people, in my opinion.

  • ChrisW1958

    Sorry, but the cheapening of the sainthood process should not be used as a back door method to bestow a reserved place for someone who merely was well publicized. As most people are well aware, the process of sainthood is reserved for those with demonstrable proof of the saint’s relation to God. It is insulting for someone of the Jewish Faith, which does not believe in Sainthood, to dictate who should be eligible for recognition as having a special relationship to God.

  • eaglehawkaroundsince1937

    Yes as PDEANY1234 said below, “it takes years and miracles to be considered for this” As far as pope pie a– 12 is concerned – a stain on the history of the Roman Catholic Church + . Now when I die, and I’m old now, I want to hear from my friend Jesus – come in good and faithfull servent not let me see your medals.

  • potaboc

    The comment was made that Pius didn’t risk his life while Ms Gies did. This is true, but Pius as head of the church did not have to worry about himself alone; he also had his responsibility toward the church to consider.

  • kirkwood1

    This column is an outrage.For one thing, no one can be declared a saint until they die. This woman has been dead less than two or three days.So Mr. Rosensaft’s opening comment is disingenous and only a means to attack Pius XII.For another thing, some of us are getting a little tired of the calumnies hurled against Pius. He saved more than 800,000 Jews. The real story of this sainted and wonderful Pope is readily available for anyone who wants to read it.The editors should have seen what Mr. Rosensaft was up to and stopped it.The editors, the paper and Mr. Rosensaft owe Catholics a deep and profuse apology.

  • amelia45

    Miep Gies was truly an extraordinaory person.Or, what she would prefer, I am sure, is she was an ordinary person who did extraordinary things. She actually lived a Christian life.As for Pius XII, the Church needs to open up the archives on his actions during WWII before they make him a saint. Maybe there is more there than the public knows. He held the seat of Peter during the horrors of WWII – he certainly was not an ordinary person. The question is, did he do anything extraordinary as a Christian during the times of the greatest evil of the past century.

  • skipmoskey

    May I suggest that Mr. Rosensaft study the Catholic Church’s requirements for sainthood before he posits such a ridiculous idea. In fact, he betrays any knowledge of the teachings or inner workings of the Church. Sainthood is not something that is bestowed on remarkable or heroic people like an award or prize. It is a long and arduous (for the Church) process to make someone a saint.

  • dmpk218

    There is so much falsehood, ignorance and just plain silliness in this piece, it’s hard to know where to begin.Why did the NYT praise Pius XII in 1942 as the “lone voice” in Europe protesting Nazi persecution? Why did Albert Einstein and Golda Meir publicly mourn his passing in 1957? Why did Israeli diplomat Pinchas Lapide credit Pius with saving over 800,000 Jews? Why did the chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, deliberately take the Pope’s name (Eugenio) when he converted in 1943? Were they all wrong?Note this: Ann Frank’s country lost a higher percentage of its Jews than any other country in Europe, while Italy lost the least. The difference? Church leaders in the former–against Vatican urging–publicly denounced persecution of Jews (leading to vicious retaliation), while Pius “kept silent.” In fact, St. Edith Stein’s arrest and execution were a direct cause of the Dutch church’s public protest. It only succeeded in getting a lot more people killed. Happy now?Pius has not been “fast-tracked” to sainthood. He’s been dead over 50 years, and his record has been and is being exhaustively studied. Miep Gies’s body is not even cold yet, and this guy criticizes the Vatican for not canonizing her. How utterly absurd.And yes, by the way, it’s not the business of non-Catholics to tell us who we should venerate and pray to. We can handle that ourselves, thank you very much.

  • DeeNY

    Miep Gies surely IS a saint, and needs no official recognition from the Roman Catholic Church, a corrupt organization headed by an ex-Nazi who seeks official sainthood for his predecessor, Pius XII, whose silence during WWII revealed the hypocrisy of the Vatican that continues to this day.

  • fishcrow

    “Her heroic attempt to save eight Jews surely qualifies as miraculous, as does her preservation of her young Jewish friend’s diary.”No, it qualifies as heroic and exemplary. It’s a beautiful thing, but it’s not a miracle.

  • BlaiseP

    @ dmpk218 The Vatican also published flyers attacking Nazi racial policy, making sure Italians knew their love of blond, blue-eyed ‘Supermensch’. Italians, as you might know, are a mostly dark haired, dark eyed people. It also let drop to Italian clergy the absurdity of Similarly Spain, another Catholic country, had scant love of the Nazis and their crazy racial theories. Franco decreed that Sephardic Jews were Spaniards, hence entitled to the protection of the Spanish state, and kept the Spanish border open to Jewish and other refugees from Nazism all through the war.

  • tomd3

    Professor Rosensaft would do well to do the basic background research on the Catholic beatification process – for one, cases aren’t even brought up for consideration until five years after the person’s death. Yes, five years, so even for a figure like Mother Teresa, there’s a requirement to slow things down for the purpose of poring over the relevant records.As for his main point, which seems to be frustration about Pope Pius’s being considered for sainthood, the professor is well within his rights to register concern about the leader of a major world religion being so commended when there appears to be, at the very least, something short of consensus about his behavior during World War II. That said, his use of the recently deceased and Cardinal Saliege falls short if only because he presumes complete knowledge of these people’s lives – knowledge that I’m guessing he doesn’t have. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church makes determinations about sainthood based on fairly extensive criteria – criteria that Gies has not yet met because she’s only been dead a couple of days, and as for the Cardinal, I can only presume that no one has brought his case before the Holy See.

  • cgroark

    As an Ex-Catholic: Miep Gies IS a saint. When I was a child, I was taught that a saint is merely someone who is in Heaven. The church waits years and demands miracles to ‘prove’ the person has made it to Heaven and, effectively, has enough ‘pull’ with God to get Him to break His own rules (that is, perform a miracle). If Miep Gies hasn’t made it to Heaven, it’s doubtful anyone ever has… or ever will. Just because someone hasn’t been publicly declared to be a saint doesn’t mean they aren’t one.You were a good and decent human being when so many others were not. Miep Gies, R.I.P.

  • carlosolea

    I don’t mean to be disrispectful, but while a professor of Law, Mr. Rosensaft seems to be completely ignorant about cannon law. His statement “The question Roman Catholics throughout the world should be asking themselves is why Miep Gies was never made a saint” is completely ridiculous. First, she died yesterday. Nobody – not even the Seraphic St. Francis of Assisi – can be declared a Saint while still alive. And nobody’s to say that she won’t be in the future. A cause might be opened soon, the requisite process might be followed, miracles might be attributed to her intercession and she might be elevated to the altars. I am saddened by the fact that such a poorly researched and obviously skewed article was published by this newspaper. I don’t think I can take the Faith section seriously anymore.

  • BlaiseP

    Carlos,It is a site run by atheists and Anglicans, who are the next best thing. It knows almost nothing about Catholicism, and what it does deign to know is skewed to the negative.The professor probably thought he was contributing to a serious site that would check some of the more pertinent facts. he thought they might give him some help, or at least have Poor fellow.