World War II movies and shows often focus on conflicts on the battlefield, but every once in a while, a piece of film captures the struggles of civilians mired in war’s grey areas — the spaces between decision makers and troops. “A Small Light” does just that.
While most Americans may be familiar with story of Anne Frank, whose diary shed light on the deplorable treatment of Jewish people under Nazi rule, the story of the brave woman who hid Frank and her family is lesser known. Miep Gies, an ordinary woman, performed an extraordinary act of courage in hiding the Frank family from the Gestapo.
The eight-part series, produced by National Geographic, tells the story of Gies (Bel Powley) and her husband Jan (Joe Cole), who worked quietly to resist the Nazis in Amsterdam.
Gies, who was not Jewish, is unemployed and living with her adoptive Dutch family as the series begins. That is until Otto Frank, played by Liev Schreiber, hires her as a secretary.
At the outset of the show, Holland appears to be a bastion, but as the Nazis seize control, Jewish life in Amsterdam becomes tenuous seemingly overnight. As a result, Gies works to hide her boss’ family in a hideaway known famously as the annex in their former office.
For two years, the Frank family, Van Pels family and a man named Fritz Pfeffer survived there. Nazis eventually raided the building in August 1944 and sent the eight residents to concentration camps.
Gies, meanwhile, was left with the wreckage from the raid, picking up remnants of what the families left behind, including the renowned diary of Anne Frank, which she returned to Otto — the sole surviving member of the Frank family — after Allied Forces liberated the concentration camps.
The series is a testament to the increasing danger Gies and her husband put themselves through to protect their wards following the swift Nazi takeover. The show derives its title from a quote from Gies, which said, “Even a regular secretary, a housewife or a teenager can turn on a small light in a dark room,” according to the New York Times.
Gies published her own memoir in 1987.
“I am not a hero,” she wrote. “I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did and more — much more — during those dark and terrible times years ago, but always like yesterday in the heart of those of us who bear witness. Never a day goes by that I do not think of what happened then.”
The first two episodes of “A Small Light” are available to stream on Disney+ and Hulu.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.