In ‘A Small Light,’ an Ordinary Woman Helps Anne Frank’s Family

Two days after the Gestapo’s 1944 raid on the annex where Anne Frank and others were hiding, Miep Gies, a seemingly ordinary secretary, and her colleague walked into the hiding place and encountered a chaotic scene left behind by the Nazis.

Years later, Gies described what she saw that day as a mess of books, newspapers and other everyday items. “And then we started searching. For what, I don’t know, but we were looking for something,” she said in a 1958 interview. Among the items, she found a red plaid diary. Gies grabbed it and put it in a drawer in her office.

She had just saved one of the Holocaust’s most famous accounts: Anne Frank’s diary.

Rater and Phelan wanted to give the show a contemporary feel by focusing “A Small Light” not just around war, but also around ordinary people’s ordinary lives being suddenly interrupted.

In the show, we see nurses help save babies from being killed by the Nazis, and instead sending them to live in the Dutch countryside. One memorable scene shows how nurses swapped babies for dolls, telling Jewish mothers to lose the dolls on their way to concentration camps.

“It is such a fascinating, heartbreaking, hard to believe story at times,” Cole, who plays Gies’s husband, said in a video interview.

When in 1942, Otto Frank asked Gies to help hide him, his daughters, Anne and Margot, and his wife, Edith, in an annex at their office, Gies didn’t hesitate before saying yes.

“She had no idea what she was saying yes to,” Rater said. “And then she had to keep saying yes for two years.”

This was until a warm day in August 1944 when Nazis raided the office and found the eight people — the Frank family and four others — hiding in the annex.

In “A Small Light,” Gies’s decision to help despite the dangers and disruption this posed to her life (she kept the secret, brought food and books and more), her unwavering spirit and her reluctance to be seen as a hero makes the viewer ask: What would I have done in that situation? The show’s title is taken from a quote by Gies: “Even a regular secretary, a housewife or a teenager can turn on a small light in a dark room.”

The show “is about your personal dynamics that are interrupted by the war,” said Schreiber who recently spent time in Ukraine raising money for humanitarian aid. “That’s part of what I saw in Ukraine. These people’s lives have been interrupted and they try to continue.”

“A Small Light” was shot in the Netherlands — in Amsterdam and Harlem — and Prague, where the interior scenes were filmed in a three-story replica of Otto Frank’s Amsterdam office, where the annex was hidden behind a bookcase. (The original building, on the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, is now the Anne Frank House.)

While “A Small Light” has moments of levity and snippets of life’s mundanity despite the war raging outside, the episodes gradually become more intense, leading up to the inevitable betrayal that doomed all the people in the annex except for Otto Frank, Anne’s father.

Schreiber, who is Jewish, said he was often asked to play roles in Holocaust films. “I hate the narrative that we went like lambs to the slaughter,” which is common in such movies, he said.

“But this felt different,” he added.

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