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Who betrayed Anne Frank? Suspect identified after 77 years

A new book suggests that a Jewish notary revealed the hiding place of Anne Frank and her family in order to save himself

Anne Frank in an undated photo. Courtesy Anne Frank House

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One of World War II's most enduring mysteries may have been solved after a cold-case investigation identified a Jewish notary as the prime suspect in the betrayal of diarist Anne Frank and her family.

Arnold van den Bergh may have revealed the Franks' hiding place in Amsterdam to the Nazis in a bid to save his own family, according to the six-year inquiry led by a former FBI agent. The evidence comes from modern data-crunching techniques combined with a long-lost, anonymous note sent to Anne's father Otto naming Van den Bergh, according to a new book about the investigation.

The Anne Frank House museum said it was “impressed by the evidence” in the book being published on Tuesday by Canadian author Rosemary Sullivan, but that further investigation was needed.

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Theories have long swirled about the Nazi raid on 4 August 1944, that uncovered the secret annexe to an Amsterdam house where Anne and her family hid for two years. Anne and her sister died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, but her diary became one of the most haunting accounts of the Holocaust, selling some 30 million copies.

Retired FBI detective Vince Pankoke was enlisted by a Dutch documentary-maker in 2016 to head a team to crack the "cold case" that two previous police probes had failed to.  The name of Van den Bergh, who died in 1950 of throat cancer, had previously received little attention. But it rose to the top of a list of four suspects during Pankoke's investigation, which used algorithms to find new links in troves of information, and employed experts in various fields.

Van den Bergh was a founding member of the Jewish Council, an administrative body that the Nazis forced Jews to establish to organise deportations from the Netherlands. Investigators found he had initially managed to get his family exempted from being transported. But this was revoked around the time of the raid on the Franks, leading them to suspect he may have betrayed their hiding place to save his own children. He would also have had the opportunity to pass on the information, as he had been the notary for a German art dealer's sale of a collection of looted Jewish art to senior Nazi Hermann Goering.

Ronald Leopold, executive director Anne Frank House, near the passage to the secret annexe where the Franks hid for two years, in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Ronald Leopold, executive director Anne Frank House, near the passage to the secret annexe where the Franks hid for two years, in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (AP)

But the most convincing element for the investigators was the seriousness with which Otto Frank treated the allegation. Anne's father told detectives in 1964 that he had received a note shortly after the war naming Van den Bergh as the betrayer of his family, and of several other people. A copy made by Frank of the note was found by the team in a police officer's archives.

The team discounted some 30 other theories, such as a long-running suspicion that it was linked to black market activity, or just a coincidence, the investigators said. "We do not have a smoking gun, but we do have a hot weapon with empty casings next to it," Pankoke was quoted as saying by Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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The findings, published in full in Rosemary Sullivan's book The Betrayal of Anne Frank, are already provoking soul-searching in the Netherlands. Ronald Leopold, executive director of the Anne Frank House, told AFP that the probe had "generated important new information". But he said that questions remained, in particular about who had sent the anonymous note, and why. "You have to be very careful about sending someone down in history as a traitor to Anne Frank if you are not 100 or 200 percent sure about that," he added.

Investigators believed Otto Frank may not have publicised the note for fear that the discovery a Jewish person was behind the betrayal could have stoked further anti-Semitism.

Thijs Bayens, the Dutch film-maker behind the project, told 60 Minutes that the aim was not to demonise the betrayer, since it was the Nazis who had after all "brought people to do these terrible things". "The real question is: what would I have done?" he said.

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