We hear the stories of great male leaders discovering new lands, leading nations to battle, defending human rights, but what about everyday valiant acts by ordinary women. “Courage doesn’t always roar. “

“You are not defined by this moment in time
You are not defined by what has happened to you
It is the way that your choose to respond
That matters what you do
And what you decide to do
Courage is not the absence of fear
But a powerful choice we make…”
From Courage Doesn’t Always Roar By Paula Fox

During WWII, a soft-spoken, young secretary helped hide her boss’s Jewish family in an attic in Amsterdam.  When the Gestapo discovered the Frank family, Miep Gies risked her life again, by hiding Anne’s diary (written between June 12, 1942 – August 1, 1944) from authorities. In 1947, Otto Frank, the only family member who survived the concentration camp, published Anne Frank Diary of A Young Girl, which sold 31 million copies, was translated into 67 languages, and has been studied worldwide including my English class at the International School of Geneva.

Miep Gies Feb. 15, 1909 – Jan. 11, 2010

 

In my class, I continued my lesson about Dr. Boswell’s pre Civil War quilt codes guiding slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad with another exercise to show the bravery and ingenuity of everyday people.

Franco-Suisse Hotel Arbez

A half hour from our campus, the Franco- Swiss Hotel Arbez at La Cure sits on the borderline dividing the two countries. During WWII, the owners hid British and American soldiers and Jewish civilians from the Nazis. The bottom of the staircase lies in German Occupied France; the top of the stairs “the Hideaway,” a second floor room, is on Swiss territory. Refugees disappeared into the mountains on the neutral Swiss side.

After showing examples messages stitched in quilts, I asked my students to sketch symbols that could help map the route for imaginary refugees escaping from our school to the French border at La Cure.

Over a half-century later, another daring woman, Erin Gruwell, inspired 150 disillusioned tough kids from broken homes and street gangs, to use writing to bring about change.  The Freedom Writer’s Diary, published in 1999, was the true story her freshman English class at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California.  In 2007 the movie Freedom Writers was released, and the Freedom Writer’s Foundation website was established.  http://www.freedomwritersfoundation.org/site/

After reading Anne Frank, Miss Gruwell’s class then raised funds to fly Miep Gies over from the Netherlands to speak at their school.  After Miep speech,

Marcus, a husky, former gang member, once living in the street, raised his hand and stated, “You are my hero!”

“Oh no, young man, I am not a hero,” she said.  “You are the heroes in your own life story – I just did the right thing at the right time.”

Single voices. Small steps. Soft whispers. Subtle strength. Simple women of courage stand out.