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Courtesy of National Geographic

Thanks to The Diary of Anne Frank and the historians who’ve studied it, the world has a good sense of what happened in the Amsterdam annex where Frank and her family hid from the Nazis during World War II.

Less celebrated, however, are the people who risked their lives to facilitate the Franks’ (and friends’) two-year period of hiding. The premiere of A Small Light, which aired Monday on National Geographic, spotlights the everyday work of Dutch resistance workers by telling the story through the eyes of one of them: Miep Gies, Otto Frank’s secretary.

In a moment, we’ll want to know what you thought of the limited series’ start. But first, the highlights. (Note: The premiere consists of two episodes; this recap covers the events of the first.)

a-small-light-premiere-recap-episode-1-national-geographicThe show opens in Amsterdam, July 1942. Anne’s older sister Margot Frank (played by Ashley Brooke, The Blacklist) has received official notice from the city’s Central Office for Jewish Emigration that she must report to Germany for work. Her family, headed by father Otto (Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan), knows this is a very bad sign, and the development moves up his plans to take his wife Edith (Amira Casar, Call Me By Your Name) and daughters — including Anne (Billie Boullet, The Worst Witch) — into hiding. But Margot’s got to go first… and now.

Someone has to shepherd the nervous teen to the hiding spot without attracting undue attention. So Miep (Bel Powley, The Morning Show) takes her. The young women ride their bicycles past walls covered with swastika posters and “Resist” graffiti; under a bridge, they ditch Margot’s coat, which has a yellow star emblazoned with the word “Jew” sewn onto a lapel. Margot is near hysterical as she worries that she’ll be arrested, and as they approach a Nazi checkpoint, Miep sternly instructs her to lie and say that she forgot her identification. They’re getting closer to the stern-looking officer, Margot is frantic, and Miep seems worried that everything is going to fall apart in horrific fashion.

Before we can see what happens at the checkpoint, the action swings back to 1933. Miep is out of work, living at home with the foster family that took her in when she came to Amsterdam as a child. Over dinner one evening, her folks even suggest that she marry one of her five brothers, an idea that Miep resoundingly rejects. (Also, we later learn, the brother — Cas, played by Laurie Kynaston, Derry Girls — is gay and in the closet, though Miep knows.)

a-small-light-premiere-recap-episode-1-national-geographicMiep eventually lands a job at Opekta, a pectin company run by a recent German emigrant: Otto Frank, who is as reserved as Miep is outspoken. Still, they hit it off, and she becomes his secretary. They trade stories over lunch. He fled Germany because of Hitler’s rise, and his family is due to arrive soon in the Netherlands. When she was 10, her mother in Germany couldn’t afford to feed her and sent her to live with her adoptive family so she’d have a chance to flourish. “I think you pay her back by living a life worthy of her sacrifice,” Otto softly tells Miep.

Miep meets Jan (Joe Cole, Gangs of London) at a bar one evening, but she thinks he’s a bore. When they run into each other again, they start over. There’s much more of a spark between the two the second time around, and they kiss outside his building.

a-small-light-premiere-recap-episode-1-national-geographicTime passes, and Miep and Jan — now an established couple — become more involved in the life of the Frank family. Miep gets Margot and Anne a kitten to cheer them up when they’re missing their friends in Germany. Jan accompanies Miep to the Franks’ for shabbat dinner, where Otto and some of his fellow emigrant friends discuss whether Hitler will invade their new country. Miep steadfastly refuses to believe that will happen, because Holland is neutral. The Germans in the room gently tell her that she is very naïve.

Indeed, on May 15, 1940, Miep and Otto watch, worried, as Hitler’s troops march down the street after the Dutch surrender. Inside the office, Otto tells her that a connected friend in American wanted to sponsor his family so they could come there, but Otto’s visa application was turned down. So they’re doing the only other thing he can think of: They’re going into hiding. And he needs her help.

Mainly, Miep would be the family’s link to the outside world, securing food and medicine and sneaking it into the annex. “What I’m asking you to do is dangerous. If you get caught, you could get arrested, or even worse,” he says gravely, telling her to take her time and talk it through with Jan. But she quickly says she doesn’t need to. “What do I do?” she asks, ready to spring into action, and Otto cries a little.

a-small-light-premiere-recap-episode-1-national-geographicMore time passes. Miep and Jan get married. Then Margot gets her letter, and the timeline gets moved up to that day. After some consultation with the Franks, Miep and Jan agree that Miep will accompany Margot to the hiding place the next morning. Then the newlyweds wear layers upon layers of the family’s clothes home, to be brought to the annex at a later point.

Back at their room, Jan is understandably angry that Miep didn’t tell him about her plan to aid the Franks. They argue. They apologize. They peel off all of the clothing they’re wearing, and they have make-up sex.

The following morning brings us full-circle to the episode’s opening. In a moment of bravado, Miep has Margot follow her as they skip the line and ride right past the stymied Nazi officer. Miep casually shouts that they’re late for work and she’s having bike problems, and he looks confused for a moment but ultimately lets them pass. She brings Margot to Opekta (which now, by the way, has a larger staff). “There are a small set of rooms behind your father’s office. No one goes there. No one even knows they’re there,” Miep says. She explains that people will be in and out of the office all day, so Margot will not be able to make noise or use the bathroom until the end of the workday. “If you’re going to cry,” Miep says firmly, “cry now.”

Downstairs, though, all of Miep’s strength leaves her. She cries in the bathroom, and when Jan shows up at her workplace, she cries more as he hugs her. “What happens now?” she wonders.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!

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