Historians have spent almost 80 years puzzling over how Jewish teenage diarist Anne Frank and her family were discovered by Nazi authorities in the Netherlands. Now, a group of researchers led by a former FBI agent say they may have identified the individual who betrayed them.
Though they didn’t present any direct evidence, the researchers suggested that van den Bergh may have been privy to lists of addresses where Jewish people had been hiding through his work on the city’s Jewish Council, and that he may have divulged the information to protect his own family.
The researchers also identified a typed copy of an anonymous note sent to Otto Frank, Anne’s father, overlooked in previous investigations, that named the Franks’ betrayer as van den Bergh.
The Frank family hid alongside a handful of others, concealed in an annex behind a bookcase for about two years, to protect themselves from persecution. They were discovered in a police raid on Aug. 4, 1944. Anne was taken to Auschwitz and later to the Bergen-Belsen camp, where she and her elder sister Margot died in 1945 — just months before World War II ended.
Otto Frank was the only member of the family still alive when Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops. He later published his daughter’s chronicles, which have since been translated into more than 70 languages.
Like millions of Americans, Vincent Pankoke read Anne’s diary as a middle school student. He went on to work as a career investigator with the FBI, uncovering Colombian drug cartels and retracing the movements of the 9/11 hijackers. Now in retirement in Florida, he has been trying to crack the historic Frank case. Since 2016, he has looked for clues in the Netherlands, using modern artificial intelligence software to cross-reference millions of documents — police reports, lists of Nazi spies, investigative files — to find connections and new leads.
In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” show on Sunday, Pankoke called the secret annex “the most visited crime scene in the world,” with millions trying to learn more about the Holocaust and Anne.
“The team and I sat down and we compiled a list of ways in which the annex could have been compromised,” he said. They considered more than 30 suspects in 20 different scenarios before focusing on van den Bergh as the most likely culprit.
Pankoke acknowledged to CBS that it was a “circumstantial case,” but nonetheless added, “with all the evidence that we obtained, I think it’s pretty convincing.”
He said it was unlikely that van den Bergh knew the Franks personally or meant to out them in particular.
“There’s no evidence to indicate that he knew who was hiding at any of these addresses. They were just addresses that were provided where Jews were known to have been in hiding,” Pankoke said.
He suggested that van den Bergh possibly gave up the Franks and others to save his own family from being transported to concentration camps, a difficult position.
“I’d call him a chess player,” Pankoke said. “He thought in terms of layers of protection.”
Van den Bergh died in 1950.
Otto Frank worked for years to find out who had betrayed his family — and may have found the answer before he died in 1980. But he never divulged it publicly. Pankoke’s team suggested he may have decided to keep quiet about the note to avoid stoking antisemitism.
Details of the team’s investigation were published Tuesday in a book, “The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation,” by Canadian author Rosemary Sullivan. The investigation is also the subject of a documentary by filmmaker Thijs Bayens.
Sullivan told The Washington Post on Tuesday from Toronto that it was “likely” that van den Bergh was the “informant,” but added that history shouldn’t judge him too harshly, calling him a “victim” of war who was “put into such a terrible corner.”
“I see van den Bergh as a tragic figure,” Sullivan said. “Look to the Nazis who set up the bureaucracy of control of the Jewish population. … That’s where the real evil lies.”
Retired FBI agent Vince Pankoke has been investigating the arrest of #AnneFrank & the other people in hiding in the #SecretAnnex since 2017. ‘The Betrayal of Anne Frank’ a new book by Rosemary Sullivan, to be published on Jan 18, reports on the investigation & its conclusions. https://t.co/Dqm2fGb1A9— Anne Frank Center USA (@AnneFrankCenter) January 17, 2022
With witnesses long dead and evidence lost, many experts say the mystery of the Franks’ betrayer can never be conclusively solved. And while some historians welcomed the new findings, others criticized the investigation, saying it lacks evidence.
Dutch historian Bart van der Boom, of Leiden University, told The Post by email on Tuesday that he was skeptical. He said Otto Frank’s note was only “one piece of evidence” and that the idea that the Jewish Council had access to lists of addresses was a “very serious accusation,” for which there was “virtually no evidence.”
“In the end, the accusation is based solely on this anonymous denunciation. The rest is speculation,” he told The Post. “Arnold van den Bergh will now probably forever be known as the man who betrayed Anne Frank,” he added. “A bit sad, is it not?”
Johannes Houwink ten Cate, a professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at the University of Amsterdam, told Dutch media that the team’s conclusions were too speculative. “With great accusations comes great evidence. And there is none.”
The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, a museum established in 1957 in cooperation with Otto Frank, said in a statement that although it was not involved in the cold case investigation, it did share its archives with the team.
“The Anne Frank House is impressed by the work that the cold case team has carried out. The investigation was carefully set up and performed,” it said. Executive Director Ronald Leopold added that the investigation had “generated important new information and a fascinating hypothesis that merit further research.”