A Small Light's Miep and Jan – What happened to the real-life couple?

A Small Light episodes one and two spoilers follow.

Anne Frank's is a story that has been told several times over the years, and in many different forms.

The holocaust victim, whose words survived one of the darkest periods of history, have been transformed on screen into biographical dramas, documentaries, and even animation – one of which includes the fictional story of Kitty, Anne's imaginary friend.

Every angle explored serves to get us as close as possible to her lived experience and the experience of others like her who suffered under the Nazi regime, forced into horrendous situations to avoid an even worse reality at the hands of the Gestapo.

The interest in Anne's diary is hardly surprising, but A Small Light offers a different perspective in telling the story of Miep and Jan Gies, two ordinary people made exceptional by their courage to protect the vulnerable at the expense of their own safety.

Without question or compromise, the Gies risked their lives to keep the Franks safely hidden for two years until the fateful day they were discovered.

But who were the real Miep and Jan, and how much of their on-screen story actually happened?

Major spoilers for A Small Light follow.

What happened to the real-life Miep and Jan?

jan gies and miep gies, joe cole bel, powley a small light
Disney+/Mike Forster/Daily Mail/Shutterstock

What unfolds of Miep and Jan's journey in A Small Light may seem too extraordinary to be true but in reality, its creators Tony Phelan and Joan Rater didn't need to deviate too far from the truth for embellishment. The reality was astounding enough.

Like her television counterpart (played by Bel Powley), Hermine Santruschitz moved from Vienna (Austria) to the Netherlands at the age of 11 to live with her foster family the Nieuwenburgs because of ill health due to malnourishment. There she dropped the name Hermine, becoming Miep.

In 1933 she began working for Otto Frank (played by Liev Schreiber), honing her jam-making skills before stepping into the role of 'Opekta Information Service' where she responded to customers' enquiries.

The showrunners gave Miep and Jan (Joe Cole) a slightly more colourful meet-cute involving him fumbling their connection at a bar before the two finally developed a spark when she went to collect a kitten from his landlord. The truth was much more ordinary, with them meeting through her job, and the two fell for each other despite Jan already being married.

bel powley, joe cole, a small light

"Finding out that Jan had been married when we were doing our research, it was really interesting," Rater told Digital Spy during an exclusive interview.

Co-creator Phelan filled in the blanks to their real-life love story, adding: "Mr Frank had to go and vouch for them, to [their landlord] Mrs Stoppelman, because they were living in sin.

"She was like, 'They're not married. He's married to someone else. How can I let them stay in my home?' He was like, 'No, no, no. It's very complicated. They'll resolve it.'

"Famously, Miep and Jan never talked about the fact that he was married. So that's something that we discovered.

"I think, obviously, as you get older, the more sordid parts of your past, you try to put those aside."

When they became involved Jan was in the process of getting a divorce and eventually, the two married in July 1941, just short of a year before Otto's eldest daughter Margot was called up.

It was then that the Franks decided to go into hiding.

a small light cast
Dusan Martincek - Disney

That tense scene in which Margot (Ashely Brooke) laugh-cried as she cycles past the Gestapo on her way to the Franks' hiding place for the very first time was actually lifted from reality. Well, a version of it was.

Miep did in fact collect Margot and the two cycled to Otto's company on the Prinsengracht. There they waited in the secret annexe – the place which was to become their home for two years – for Otto, her mother Edith (Amira Casar), and Anne (Billie Boullet) to arrive.

They were later joined by the Van Pels family and doctor Fritz Pfeffer (played by Noah Taylor).

If that wasn't enough to manage, the real-life couple also took 23-year-old student Kuno van der Horst (Preston Nyman) into their home after he had refused to sign a declaration of loyalty to the Nazis.

Episode two of A Small Light sees Jan agree to be involved in the resistance, however, some creative license took place in much of what unfolds afterwards.

While he did go further than supplying the Franks and co with additional ration booklets thanks to his access as a social worker, the real-life Jan never really disclosed details of how he participated in the resistance.

It is only known that he was a very active member. This means the creators were forced to fill in the blanks.

anne frank, played by billie boullet, walks out of the annex as seen in a small light credit national geographic for disneydusan martincek
Dusan Martincek - Disney

In 1944 the Franks were rumbled by the Nazis after they received a tip regarding fraudulent food-ration cards and illegal employment. Those in hiding were captured and sent to concentration camps.

In real life, a desperate Miep made the ballsy decision to walk into Nazi headquarters to bargain for their releases before they were transported to the camps. Sadly, her attempt was unsuccessful.

Miep and her colleagues managed to keep the business running while they hoped and anxiously waited for their return.

Of the eight people hidden in the secret annexe, only Otto Frank survived.

What happened to Miep and Jan after the war?

bel powley, joe cole, a small light

When Otto returned after the liberation of the Netherlands in May 1945 he was taken in by Miep and Jan and stayed with them for seven years.

"That was striking," Rater told Digital Spy, "because she started as his employee. They're from different classes. They became family and so that was something that drove us."

After discovering Anne's death Miep handed Otto the diary she'd salvaged from the wreckage of the post-Nazi raid. It has been documented that Miep couldn't bring herself to read Anne's diary until after its publication in 1947. She has been quoted saying:

"I was glad that I had not read the book straight after the arrest, (...) when it was sitting in my desk drawer. If I had, I would have had to burn it, because it was too dangerous for the people Anne wrote about."

billie boullet, a small light
Dusan Martincek - Disney

In 1950 Miep and Jan had a son named Paul and Miep continued to keep the memory of Anne alive by using her shawl to keep her baby warm (as reported by The Guardian).

Miep's connection to Anne and her time hiding the Jews from the threat of the Nazis became her legacy and eventually, in the early 1990s, she wrote her memoir, Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family.

Despite her incredible actions, she refuted the title of hero, writing in her prologue:

"More than 20,000 Dutch people helped to hide Jews and others in need of hiding during those years. I willingly did what I could to help. My husband did as well. It was not enough.

"There is nothing special about me. I have never wanted special attention. I was only willing to do what was asked of me and what seemed necessary at the time."

joe cole, a small light

In 1993 Jan died at the age of 87 of kidney failure. In a statement, the Anne Frank Foundation said:

"Jan was not a person to stand in the limelight, not even amid all the publicity surrounding Anne Frank.

"He was throughout his lifetime a man of few words, but many deeds."

Miep corroborated that sentiment on her 100th birthday when she asked that the "unnamed heroes" who helped the Dutch Jews be remembered.

"I would like to name one, my husband Jan," she said. "He was a resistance man who said nothing but did a lot. People like him existed in thousands but were never heard."

In 2009, the Austrian ambassador Wolfgang Paul awarded Miep the Grand Decoration of Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria.

Miep died following a short illness in 2010.

A Small Light is out on Disney+.

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