New book claims to have found out who betrayed Anne Frank to the Nazis – but some don’t believe it
More than 75 years later, a new investigation claims to have found the culprit, a Jewish notary. Several experts discredit the discovery.
When Otto Frank returned to Amsterdam he was alone. He was the sole survivor of his family, who were taken to the concentration camps after they were discovered in the hideout where they had lived for several years.
From this drama remained the memory of Anne, the young woman who described the traumatic experience in her diary, which is now considered one of the most personal and symbolic witnesses to the horrors of the Holocaust. In 1945 his father returned home, where he received an anonymous note pointing to the man who would have revealed the location of the hiding place to the Nazis – and who had indirectly sentenced his family to death.
On this paper was the name of Arnold van den Bergh, a Jewish notary. Otto turned the potential lead over to detectives, who re-examined the case in 1963. The case has never been solved to date, according to those responsible for a new investigation hitting newsstands in book form.
“The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation” was released this Tuesday, January 18th in the United States of America and is stirring public opinion, particularly the Jewish community. For investigators, the man who betrayed the Franks was Bergh, a well-known member of the Amsterdam Judenrat who died of cancer in 1950.
In charge of the operation was Vince Pankoke, an FBI veteran who used new technologies like artificial intelligence and data analysis to try to uncover new leads. Work started in 2016 and involved a team of more than 20 elements.
Contrary to expectations, none of the technologies were central to the conclusion drawn from much of the existing evidence and analyzed by several researchers. The results were compiled in a book by Rosemary Sullivan, which provided the essential context for the conclusion.
“In 1939, in the newly occupied countries and in the Jewish ghettos, Jewish councils were established to act as filters between the occupiers and the Jewish communities.” Through them, the Germans enforced the specific rules that applied only to Jews. It was then up to the council members to disseminate and implement the orders.
According to Pankoke’s investigation, Bergh used membership to avoid committing himself to one of the many concentration camps. Others, like the Franks, were not so lucky. They lived in hiding for two years in the small outbuilding of the factory where Otto had worked, at least until they were denounced, arrested and sent to the camps.
Bergh at one of the meetings of the Jewish Council
A year later the war was over and the Dutch authorities went about their business: hunting down the criminals who had illegally handed over their compatriots to the Germans. Although Bergh was a potential suspect, he was never charged.
The investigation, which began in 2016, had many means to do its job, including donations from the city of Amsterdam itself. And a supercomputer analyzed addresses and identities to weed out suspects — and found others.
It would turn out to be the anonymous note given to Otto that would serve as the glue for all the other evidence. “We know that the Judenrat was dissolved at the end of September 1943 and all that [os membros] were sent to the fields. And we thought, well, if Arnold van den Bergh is in any camp, he couldn’t have access to any information that could compromise the location of the annex,” Pankoke said.
It was only later that they found out that Bergh had been in Amsterdam in the final years of the war, the piece that helped them piece together the new case. “In his role as a member of the Jewish Council, he would have access to the hiding places of the Jews. When Bergh lost all the protections granted by the council that helped him escape the camps, he had to give the Nazis something of value so that he and his wife could stay safe.”
The lead investigator is undecided, admitting that there could be “reasonable doubts” about his innocence, not least because there is no absolutely definite evidence to prove his guilt. “I would say [Bergh] was a chess player. He thought of the protection, of the means he would have at his disposal to avoid being sent to the camps.”
To other historians and investigators, Pankoke’s conclusions may be premature. “The evidence is too scarce to blame anyone. It’s a massive accusation, full of assumptions based on little more than a snippet of information,” Emile Schrijver, director of Amsterdam’s Jewish Cultural Quarter, told the New York Times. Not alone.
According to the researcher Laurien Vastenhout, there is no evidence for the existence of such a list with the addresses of the Jewish hiding places and therefore no certainty that Bergh knew the whereabouts of the Franks and others. “Why did the people in hiding reveal their addresses to the Jewish Council?” he asks.
While there are many doubts about the current investigation, the American daily demonstrates the harsh reality that many Jews were instrumental in bringing about many of the horrors of the Holocaust. He cites, for example, Hannah Arendt, the philosopher, author, and survivor who declared that the Final Solution “would never have been possible without the help of Jews in administrative and supervisory work.” A hot topic in the Jewish community, where many feel this is just another way to blame them for the darkest time in their history.
“There’s a name for it,” writer Dara Horn tells The New York Times. “It’s called the ‘Holocaust Reversal.’ There’s a reason this appeals to a gentile audience. It makes them feel like they don’t have to think about their own responsibilities.”