As suspect in Anne Frank’s betrayal is named, here’s a look back at the 78-year-old cold case

A new investigation points towards prominent Jewish notary Arnold van den Bergh as the person who could have tipped off German authorities to the hiding place of the teenager and her family, which eventually led to her detention in a concentration camp

FP Staff January 18, 2022 12:04:45 IST
As suspect in Anne Frank’s betrayal is named, here’s a look back at the 78-year-old cold case

Copies of 'The Diary of Anne Frank' are seen on a table in a public library in Zagreb. It is one of the world's best-known books and has been the basis for several plays and films. AFP

One of World War II’s enduring mysteries may have finally been solved after 78 years.

The mystery we are talking of is that of who betrayed Jewish teenage diarist Anne Frank and her family.

An investigation — led by a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent — has identified Arnold van den Bergh, a Jewish notary, as the prime suspect in the case.

We take you back into history on who Anne Frank was and what this new development means.

Who was Anne Frank?

As suspect in Anne Franks betrayal is named heres a look back at the 78yearold cold case

File image of a journalist taking images of pictures of Anne Frank at the renovated Anne Frank House Museum in Amsterdam. AP

Anne Frank is probably one of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust. A teenager, she gained fame posthumously with the 1947 publication of The Diary of a Young Girl (originally Het Achterhuis in Dutch) in which she documents her life in hiding from 1942 to 1944, during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II.

It is one of the world's best-known books and has been the basis for several plays and films.

Historical records show that Anne and her family moved to Amsterdam from Germany to escape the rise of Hitler and established a new life with Otto setting up a manufacturing business.

But in 1940, the Nazis came to occupy the Netherlands and when, two years later, they started to deport Jews to concentration camps, the Franks went into hiding.

The Franks and four other Jews hid in the annex, reached by a secret staircase hidden behind a bookcase, from July 1942 until they were discovered in August 1944 and deported to concentration camps.

As suspect in Anne Franks betrayal is named heres a look back at the 78yearold cold case

The secret annex at the renovated Anne Frank House Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands. AP

Anne and her sister were then moved to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she died in 1945, but her diary became one of the most haunting accounts of the Holocaust, selling some 30 million copies.

The diary revealed how tough life was for them in hiding. In one of her entries, she wrote, "Will this year, 1944, bring us victory? We don't know yet. But where there's hope, there's life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again."

According to the Anne Frank website, she also wrote short stories, started on a novel and copied passages from the books she read in her Book of Beautiful Sentences. Writing helped her pass the time.

Mystery solved?

Till date, it was unknown why the German police had raided the place where the Franks were hiding on 4 August 1944 and what had led to their arrests and subsequent detention in concentration camps.

However, the answer has been unearthed by a team that included retired US FBI agent Vincent Pankoke and around 20 historians, criminologists and data specialists.

A new book called The Betrayal of Anne Frank A Cold Case Investigation, by Canadian academic and author Rosemary Sullivan based off the investigations writes that a prominent Jewish notary called Arnold van den Bergh may have disclosed the secret annex hiding place of the Frank family to German occupiers to save his own family from deportation and murder in Nazi concentration camps.

As suspect in Anne Franks betrayal is named heres a look back at the 78yearold cold case

Film maker Thijs Bayens, who came up with the idea of pulling together a cold case team to analyse evidence in the hunt for the person who betrayed Anne and her family, in Amsterdam, Netherlands. AP

The new probe reveals that 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.

The team's findings suggest that Otto Frank, Anne's father, was one of the first to hear about the possible involvement of Van den Bergh.

A brief note, a typed copy of an anonymous tip delivered to Otto Frank after the war, names Van den Bergh, who died in 1950, as the person who informed German authorities in Amsterdam where to find the Frank family, the researchers say.

The note was an overlooked part of a decades-old Amsterdam police investigation that was reviewed by the team, which used artificial intelligence to analyse and draw links between archives around the world.

Retired US FBI agent Vincent Pankoke has stated that it’s not confirmed that Van den Bergh was the betrayer, but the most likely suspect. "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.

When asked why such an investigation was carried out, 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.

Reactions to the investigation

In a statement, the Anne Frank House museum said it was "impressed" with the investigation team's work.

Its executive director, Ronald Leopold, added that the new research had "generated important new information and a fascinating hypothesis that merits further research".

The museum said it was not directly involved in the investigation but had shared its archives and museum with the team.

“No, I don’t think we can say that a mystery has been solved now. I think it’s an interesting theory that the team came up with," said museum director Ronald Leopold.

"I think they come up with a lot of interesting information, but I also think there are still many missing pieces of the puzzle. And those pieces need to be further investigated in order to see how we can value this new theory," he was quoted as saying to The Associated Press.

With inputs from agencies

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