It was a cold case all right. A very, very cold case. Rosemary Sullivan’s fascinating and important study, “The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation,” takes us through an excruciatingly detailed account of the 2019 investigation whose goal was to find—once and for all—who was responsible for revealing to the Nazi authorities the location of the Frank family’s hiding place in August of 1944.
And I do mean that the investigation and Sullivan’s description of it were and are excruciating. There is so much detail—all entirely relevant to the case—and such vivid description and explication of the horrors of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, that the reader must force him/herself to slow down, take it all in, and feel the sheer disgust, frustration, anger, and sadness that these details evoke.
The primary investigators in the case included a Dutch filmmaker named Thijs Bayens, who seems to have been the foundational inspiration for the project; journalist Pieter Van Twisk, who acted as head of research; financial expert Luc Gerrits; ex-FBI investigator Vince Pankoke; and criminologist/historian Monique Koemans. Eventually, those five were joined in the investigation by about two hundred others. Together they examined every conceivable shred of evidence that was in any way relevant to the case—detailed studies of the Frank family, their relatives, their friends and their enemies; the Dutch Jewish population, particularly in Amsterdam; the Dutch non-Jews who resisted the Nazi occupation; Dutch collaborators with the German occupiers; the brave people who hid the Jews; and the Nazi occupiers themselves. And the organizations: the Nazi government officials; the Jewish Council, whose ostensible function was to act as intermediaries between the Nazis and the Jewish population; the Dutch police department; and many, many more.
And so began the investigation. Its goal was, as previously indicated, simple and singular—to discover the identity of the person who betrayed the Frank family. But the process was complex, multi-pronged, and frustratingly labyrinthine, thousands of branches leading in hundreds of directions. Eventually, however, the search was narrowed to the four most likely candidates, and the solution depended on three investigative imperatives, the answers to three questions: (1) Who had the motive to betray the hiders? (2) Who had the knowledge of their location? And (3) Who had the opportunity to present his or her evidence of the location to the authorities?
The four “finalists” in the search each fulfilled at least two of those imperatives. One was a woman named Ans van Dijk, a Jew who betrayed two hundred hiders. She was desperate for the money she could earn from the Nazis for turning in her Jewish counterparts. Her motive, then, was money; her knowledge of hiders was extensive; but the team discovered that she had moved to a different town at the time of the Frank betrayal, so the opportunity was simply not available to her. Another suspect was the sister of one of the people who had hidden and helped the Franks. That sister was, ironically, a Nazi sympathizer who had been romantically involved with Nazi officials and who did not get along with her family. She seemed to have motive, knowledge and opportunity, and she became a prime suspect. But it had been revealed to the team by an important contact that the actual betrayer had died before 1960, and the sister lived until 2001. Suspect number two eliminated.
The next suspect was a grocer named Van Hoeve whose store was very near the warehouse annex where the Franks hid. Several months before the raid on the annex, Van Hoeve had been arrested; many Jews in that near-impossible situation betrayed hiders because that was perhaps their only way to escape the horror of the death camps—a repayment, as it were. So he had the knowledge and the motive. And he may have even had the opportunity after his arrest. But as it turned out, he had been sent to a concentration camp, an event which would not have occurred had he been the betrayer. The Nazis rewarded their desperate Jewish spies by protecting them from transfer. So the likelihood that he was the culprit virtually evaporated.
The fourth suspect was a member of the Dutch Jewish Council. His name was Arnold Van den Bergh. As a high-ranking member of the Council, he was privy to much inside information about the hiding places of the Jews he had promised to support and protect. Knowledge: check. But because of his privileged position, he was personally acquainted with the Nazi authorities and could therefore rely on some degree of protection via those relationships. And with the eventual dissolution of the Council, he had begun to depend more and more on those friendships lest he, too, be “transported.” Obviously, he also needed some bargaining chips, and his knowledge of hiders and hiding places might well have served as those chips. His motive, then, was his own survival, that of his family, and to some extent, the maintenance of his fortune. Van den Bergh clearly had ample motive, ample opportunity, and ample knowledge.
Given that Van den Bergh was the suspect who most clearly met all the criteria while all the others had significant “alibis,” the investigators ultimately concluded that Van den Bergh was indeed the guilty party. By the sheer process of elimination combined with the accumulation of significant pieces of evidence, the investigators’ verdict was clear. Arnold Van den Bergh was their man.
The most significant, jarring, troubling, and controversial point of this book, though, is not the final determination and decision of the investigation.The real points are the answers to the plethora of questions about the fate of Anne Frank, the brilliant and spiritually gifted victim and her family. Why was she betrayed? “The Betrayal of Anne Frank” reveals the many answers to that question. But there are more relevant questions. Why was it so important to the investigators to solve a seventy-five-year-old cold case? What would be the world’s reaction if the betrayer turned out to be a Jew? How would the revelations regarding the cruel Nazi occupation of the Netherlands affect the emotions and psyches of the readers? What’s the value to the world of 2022 of a detailed and carefully delineated study of the character of Nazi authorities, collaborators, resisters, sympathizers, and painfully neutral local observers? How might such revelations relate to the potential horrors implied by the inarguable global rise of anti-semitism even now?
All those questions and issues are treated in detail, discussed, and disclosed in Rosemary Sullivan’s text here. Though the book is by no means a captivating, page-turning, procedural novel-like piece, it is, much more importantly, a study of the vagaries of human nature, the emergence of courage and loyalty in the most trying conditions imaginable, the dangers of tyrannical leaders in authoritarian societies, and a testament to the will and stubborn determination of good people to find the truth, no matter how troubling that truth may prove to be.
REVIEW BY JACK KRAMER
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Harper, the publisher, for review purposes.