Thank you Tony Phelan and Joan Rater for creating the moving and mesmerizing limited series, A Small Light about Miep Gies, who hid the Frank family from the Nazis during the Holocaust in Amsterdam. I met them at a Jewish Federation Los Angeles screening at UTA and at Stephen Wise Temple. Joan Rater told the audience, “People make choices and choices make history.” Miep Gies believed she was just an ordinary person who made a choice that anyone would make but we know that is not true. Would we choose to help? As Miep would say, “We can all turn on a small light in a dark room.”
A Small Light Screening by Jewish Federation LA at UTA
READ THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW
Good afternoon, this is Lisa Niver. I’m the founder of We Said Go Travel, and the author of Brave-ish, One Breakup, Six Continents, and Feeling Fearless after 50. And I am beyond excited and honored to have the most incredible producer joining me today. Tony, thank you so much for being here.
I’m happy to be here.
I loved meeting you at the Federation event at UTA about your current project, A Small Light. I know it’s available for people to see now, and we are definitely going to talk about this show, which I think everybody should watch. I think they should have it in classrooms. I used to teach at Steven Wise Tempe, I taught in Culver City Middle School. Everybody needs to see your show, but before we get there–You have a long, very prominent, incredible career with movies and television, so can you give people a little bit of background? Who are you?
Well, I am a writer, director, showrunner and my wife, Joan, and I write as a team. We have been on such shows as Grey’s Anatomy, Madam Secretary. We just created a show for CBS this past year called Fire Country.
The top rated new show of last season.
We’re very excited about that. We came to A Small Light having pretty much spent our entire career in television on network. A Small Light, which tells the story of Meap Gies, who was Otto Frank’s secretary and was instrumental in hiding the Franks as well as the other people in the secret annex. What Joan and I discovered through our research was that while she and her husband Jan were hiding the Franks, they were also hiding up to 12 other people in and around Amsterdam. And so this to us, felt like a wonderful opportunity to tell the story of the helpers of people who in Amsterdam during World War II, helped to hide Jews. And tell the story of people who, when faced with bigotry and antisemitism went out, could have chosen to do nothing, but instead chose to go out of their way to help their fellow man. It really felt like an inspirational story and a way to tell the story of Anne Frank from a different perspective. In partnership with Disney+ and Nat Geo, we created an eight episode limited series, which is now available on Disney+ and Hulu and really has some wonderful performances. The intention was to tell a historical story and wipe away the cobwebs and to really tell it in such a way that felt immediate and vital and exciting.
It’s phenomenal. I saw it with an incredible crowd, and my parents saw it the following night at Stephen Wise Temple a big crowd. Everyone I’ve spoken to about it who’s watched it comes away with the same thing that it’s so compelling. For many of us, I grew up with a lot of education about the Holocaust and knowing about the Frank family, but I had no idea, which was one of the things you guys discussed that night, that she was so young and newly married.
She and Otto Frank formed this amazing relationship. When he hired her, she was very young in her early twenties. By the time he asked her to help hide his family, she was newly married. She was just starting out in life, but was a bit of a hot mess. In a way that I think feels very relatable. She herself was an immigrant. She was born in Vienna. After World War I, there was a program to relocate children who were in the war zone to the Netherlands, which had been neutral during World War I. They had food and all sorts of services that were available to children. There was this strange reverse kinder transport that happened at that time that we discovered.
Meep was adopted by a Dutch family, and found herself wanting to stay in Holland. When she met Mr. Frank, who was an immigrant from Germany, they formed an immediate kinship because they shared a language. Mr. Frank then used Miep and her husband Jan, as what they refer to as their Dutch friends. And so put them in contact with all these other German Jewish emigres because they could help them navigate the social morays and the customs of the Netherlands and help them with the language and other issues. So that when it came time for him to ask for her help in hiding his family, she immediately said yes to the point where he said, no, no, no. Take a moment. Think about it. You could be arrested or killed if you were found hiding Jews.
She said, I don’t need to think about it. Anyone would do it. Well, we know that not anyone would do it, because not everyone did, but she did. Our research in the show was really about why was she so open to helping others. We think part of it was the fact that she was an immigrant herself. Part of it was what she later said in life, after the success of Ann’s diary, was that you don’t have to be special in order to help other people. Small acts of kindness can really do tremendous things. That was a message that we felt the world needed right now. We’re thrilled to bring that and the story of Miep and how she was the person who scooped up Anne’s diary after everyone was arrested in the annex and kept it in a locked drawer for Anne when she came back.
When they found out that Anne and Margot were not coming back from Bergen Belson, she gathered up the diary and walked it into Mr. Frank’s office and laid it on his desk and said, this is the legacy of your daughter. And then together, they made sure that the diary found as many readers as possible. After the war, Otto chose to live with Miep for seven years until he remarried, which is pretty remarkable that this boss and employee could eventually move into being really family.
Tony Phelan and Lisa Niver recording our interview