‘A Small Light’ Ending, Explained: What Happened To The Franks, The Van Pels, And Dr. Pfeffer?


A Small Light captures the challenges that Miep Gies and her husband Jan Gies had to go through to protect the Jewish families they were closely associated with. Miep was in charge of the Secret Annex in which Otto Frank and his family resided when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. Otto Frank trusted Miep with all his heart, and when the threat of the Nazis came knocking at his door, he asked for her help. Miep was forever grateful to Otto Frank for offering her a job even though she lacked experience. He was almost a paternal figure in her life, and she did not think twice before agreeing to protect the Frank family. Miep was raised in a socialist family, and her decisions were impacted by the values she was taught over the years. She could not think about her own happiness when the world around her was falling apart. 

Spoilers Alert

Plot Summary: What Is The Series About? 

One thing that Miep was certain of from the very beginning was that she could not trust anyone around her. She initially did not reveal the secret annex plan to her husband as well. She surely loved her man, but at the same time, she was not ready to take any risks that could endanger the lives of those she was entrusted to protect. Later, Jan became her support system. After witnessing the rampant abuse that the Jews were subjected to, Jan too dedicated his life to rescuing as many Jews as he could. From cluelessly asking around a library in hopes of getting help from the resistance to stealing ration cards from his office, Jan supported Miep in any way he could. It was while finding a way to hide Mrs. Stoppelman’s grandchildren that Jan was introduced to members of the resistance. By managing to rescue a baby right under the nose of a Nazi officer, Jan proved that he could be a valuable member. Jan was consumed by the need to do more; he could not live with himself knowing that he could have been of more help. He helped the resistance draw a blueprint of the records office that they intended on bombing. While Willem constantly reminded Jan that martyrdom was not the only answer, Jan was determined to risk his life for the success of the bombing. Later, when Miep found out about the plan, she begged Jan to reconsider his decision. She demanded that he stay alive for her sake, and ultimately, Jan could not say no to her request. While he was ready to bleed for the cause, he decided against it after realizing that it would completely destroy Miep.

Miep not only had to deal with the thought of losing her husband forever, but she also constantly lived in the fear of not doing enough for those hiding at the secret annex. The constant lying and hiding while the streets were swarming with Nazi officials gradually started to affect Miep. She was quite alone during this time, with her husband mostly absent. Miep lost her only friend, Tess, after she started dating a Nazi supporter. Miep was so caught up in her routine that she could not think beyond it. The sudden interrogation by Tonny Ahlers, a member of the Dutch Nazi party, about the Frank family left Miep all the more frightened. When the potato supplier hinted at knowing about the hiding, Miep realized that the truth was out in the open. They had left traces that made it obvious that Jews were hiding in the office. At the end of episode 6 of A Small Light, when she sensed a pistol at the back of her head, she knew a mistake had been made.

Why Was Miep Not Arrested? Who Had Informed The Nazis About The Annex?

The Gestapos immediately started searching the office once they entered. They questioned Mr. Kugler, the office manager, about the people of the Jewish community that they were hiding. Mr. Kugler maintained his silence on the matter, but the Gestapos were confident that he was hiding a secret. Meanwhile, Miep, Bep and Johannes were asked to remain in their seats. Johannes advised Bep and Miep to run away when the Nazi officers were busy questioning Victor Kugler. Bep managed to escape but Miep decided to stay. The Gestapos initially did not doubt the bookcase that hid the entry to the annex, they were more interested in searching the warehouse. But the Nazi officer, Karl, noticed a scratch on the ground, which suggested that there was regular movement of the bookcase. Victor knew that it was all over; he had a gun on his forehead and he was forced to whistle the secret tune that they used to communicate with the occupants at the annex. Edith and Otto Frank opened the annex door, and the Nazis marched in. Miep could hear the cries of Edith and Margot while Anne tried to stay strong for her mother and sister.

Miep tried to bribe an officer with a macaron, but nothing worked in her favor. She wanted to stop them somehow, but she could not think of anything at that point. Miep recognized Karl’s accent and pointed out that she too was from Vienna. Somehow the Vienna connection worked, and Karl allowed her to stay behind at the office while they arrested the eight Jews and the two office staff. Miep begged Karl to spare the children, but he was not ready to negotiate. Miep heard the van leave, taking away the people she had dedicated two years of her life to protecting. She sat at her desk helplessly; a sense of defeat had set in. Later, Jan entered the office and was relieved to find her. 

While Bep wondered who the informant was, Miep believed that there was no point in discussing it. There was a list of people that they could doubt, but they would never know for certain. On her way home, Miep noticed Tonny Ahlers and got into a physical altercation, accusing him of informing the Nazis. But the surprise in Tonny’s eyes indicated that he was innocent. After returning home, all Miep could think about was a way to free the Franks and the Van Pels, and even though bribery was not the best option, it was the only choice they had.

‘A Small Light’ Ending Explained: What Happened To Dr. Pfeffer, The Van Pels & The Franks?

Miep and Jan collected money from all the like-minded people they knew. They ended up collecting a decent amount of money and Miep was ready to march into the Nazi office and bribe Karl. Even though the plan was dangerous and there was no guarantee of success, Miep was willing to take the risk. When Karl refused to accept the money and asked Miep to leave, she got desperate. She walked up to a senior Nazi officer and offered him the bag of cash begging him to free the eight Jews they had recently captured. The officer was appalled by Miep’s confidence; he took the money and forced her out of the building. With the money gone, she lost hope of bringing them home. All Miep could do was find the important belongings left in the annex and keep them safe with her. While searching the annex, she came across Anne Frank’s diary which she kept in a locked drawer. Miep was then unaware of the impact her little action would have on the world. While she failed to persuade the Nazi officer, she rescued the diary of a little girl, which took the world by storm. Miep spent the next few months trying to keep the business running, even though it had almost become impossible. One evening, an unexpected guest entered the office. Miep was delighted to see Johannes. He and Kugler were taken to the political prisoners’ camp, but luckily he was released on medical grounds. Johannes could not have been more thankful for the ulcer that allowed his early release. With Johannes by her side, Miep found some support in running the dying business.

During the hunger winter, there was barely any food left, with the Germans cutting off food and fuel shipments. And just when everyone was losing hope, the Allies came in with relief. Jan cherished the chocolate he found in his relief bag after the unpalatable tulip bud soup he was forced to consume. The Allies finally liberated the Netherlands in 1945, and the streets came alive with a cheerful crowd. Kugler returned to his office and narrated his brave tale of escaping the Nazis by hiding in a cornfield. Gradually, more and more Jews returned home from the camp and Miep and Jan eagerly waited for the Franks. One morning, soon after Jan learned that Otto Frank had survived, Miep and Jan were ecstatic to see him coming towards them. The return of Otto Frank was celebrated, but at the same time, everyone started focusing on finding information about Anne, Margot and Peter. Mr. and Mrs. Van Pels did not survive nor did Edith and Dr. Pfeffer but there was still hope for the girls and Peter. Sadly, while going through a death list, Otto and Miep came across Peter’s information. After learning about Peter’s death, they started to aggressively search for the girls. 

Episode 8 of A Small Light comes to an end when one day at the office, a woman who stayed with the girls at the Bergen-Belsen camp inquired about Otto Frank. Upon receiving the heartbreaking news, everyone at the office mourned the deaths of the little girls whom they had watched grow over the years. They reminisced about the fond memories that they had of the two sisters. Realizing that Anne was not returning home, Miep handed over her diary to Otto Frank. After reading the diary, Otto realized how he barely knew his own daughter and the complexities that she carried within her. Otto went on to live with Miep and Jan for the next seven years, and he remained in contact with them all his life. He decided to publish Anne Frank’s diary. Anne had always wanted to become a writer and her diary continues to be a significant literary work. The diary captured the war through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old, and her resilience and hopefulness inspired the entire world.

A Small Light ends with a brief explanation of the title. Miep Gies went on to live for 100 years, and she became an inspiration to the younger generation. She would often end her talks by stating the importance of never giving up because “a small light” can also brighten a dark room. Miep Gies’s relentless commitment to the cause reminds us that even in hopeless times, it is important to not give up and continue to help others in ways that might not be grand but will be impactful.

Final Words

A Small Light goes big on emotions. Bel Powley as Miep Gies was thoroughly convincing and a delight to watch on screen. It is the performance of the entire cast and the script that make A Small Light worth a watch. The focus of the show was not just the various sacrifices that Miep Gies made during the war, but it also brought to light how the war impacted personal relationships, often making those fighting against the oppression feel lonely. Miep loved her best friend, Tess, but when she realized that Tess was dating a Nazi supporter, Miep distanced herself from her, even though it was not an easy decision. While the fight against oppression often led to a feeling of loneliness, it was the camaraderie of those with similar mindsets that kept one going. Miep did not function alone; she was backed up by her husband and the entire office staff to successfully keep the secret. 

Not all days at the annex were terrifying, some were comforting and full of joy. One of the most memorable scenes in A Small Light was when Edith and Auguste Van Pels offered to dress Miep in their clothes. Since they could not step out of the annex, they decided to allow their clothes to enjoy the world outside. There was an incomprehensible joy in their eyes followed by an aching pain as they imagined stepping outside and attending a party the moment they saw Miep wearing their clothes. Miep inspired the young women she attempted to rescue. The fact that she too was forced to leave her home and her mother and travel alone to the Netherlands to live with her adoptive parents inspired those around her to take a chance. While Liddy saw in Miep courage and strength, Anne found hope in her. Miep Gies went on to become an inspirational figure in the lives of many young people.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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