The Betray­al of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation

Rose­mary Sullivan

  • Review
By – April 25, 2022

This thought­ful, provoca­tive new book fol­lows the Frank fam­i­ly and the four oth­er belea­guered Jews hid­ing with them in the secret annex above Otto Frank’s spice ware­house on Prin­sen­gracht 263 in occu­pied Ams­ter­dam. They were safe there for over two years, but one day some­one betrayed them to the Nazis. Who it was has been a wide­ly debat­ed ques­tion for near­ly eighty years. Now, over two hun­dred tal­ent­ed and ded­i­cat­ed inves­ti­ga­tors have come togeth­er to try to uncov­er the secret, and Rose­mary Sullivan’s book tells the sto­ry of how they reached their conclusion.

Who betrayed Anne Frank’s fam­i­ly had been the sub­ject of for­mal inves­ti­ga­tion twice before; once in 1947, and again in 1963, when offi­cials fol­lowed tips and rumors and paper trails to try to name the informer. Both inves­ti­ga­tions failed to do so con­clu­sive­ly, and this new research project, led by a Dutch jour­nal­ist and film­mak­er, togeth­er with a retired FBI agent, opened the case again.

Rose­mary Sul­li­van vivid­ly brings the sto­ry to life, and the nar­ra­tive reads like a well-honed his­tor­i­cal mys­tery. She pulls us into the action with star­tling force, show­ing us how the com­bined pow­er of mod­ern AI tech­nol­o­gy and old-fash­ioned gumshoe work led the team toward its conclusion.

To accom­plish this major task, the team stud­ied tens of thou­sands of pages in both pri­vate and pub­lic archives and con­duct­ed scores of inter­views to find out who exposed the Franks’ hid­ing place to the Nazis. The search began with basic facts: on August 4, 1944, a Ger­man Jew-hunt­ing” unit, as it was called, was sent to Prin­sen­gracht 263 on an anony­mous tip. The eight peo­ple in the hid­den annex were dis­cov­ered, torn from their hid­ing place, and trans­port­ed to Auschwitz in freight cars, where all but one, Anne’s father Otto, perished.

It took an inter­na­tion­al team of data sci­en­tists, his­to­ri­ans, hand­writ­ing ana­lysts, foren­sic sci­en­tists and psy­chol­o­gists to try to answer the over­ar­ch­ing ques­tion of the book. And answer it, it did. Though the answer has spawned com­ments and ques­tions from oth­er schol­ars in the field and sparked a live­ly debate about the con­clu­sions, Sullivan’s sto­ry of the team’s research makes for a fas­ci­nat­ing tale.

Of the many sus­pects, the team con­clud­ed that only one met all the cri­te­ria of motive, knowl­edge, oppor­tu­ni­ty, and poten­tial for gain, and they end­ed up turn­ing to a pre­vi­ous­ly dis­missed piece of evi­dence in which they found the key to solv­ing the mys­tery. They con­clud­ed the per­pe­tra­tor was a Jew­ish notary who, they deter­mined, was will­ing to trade the secret of the Franks’ hid­ing place for a chance to save his own fam­i­ly, a trag­ic but not uncom­mon prac­tice at the time, accord­ing to the team’s research.

Sul­li­van is a poet and a prize-win­ning author of sev­er­al books, and her writ­ing is riv­et­ing, filled with sur­pris­es, twists and turns, and dra­mat­ic promis­es. But whichev­er it turns out to be, read­ers will feel they sim­ply must turn the page and find out. The tale is superbly ren­dered, pro­vid­ing the read­er with com­pelling schol­ar­ship, sus­pense, and an impor­tant piece of history.

While Anne Frank has long been the sym­bol of the indomitable human spir­it, through this book she is now cor­rect­ly con­tex­tu­al­ized as a vic­tim of geno­cide. The research brings a sense of jus­tice to the con­clu­sion of her sto­ry, and to that of the hun­dreds of thou­sands of oth­er Jews through­out Europe whose lives were trag­i­cal­ly end­ed through the same sys­tem­atized, state-spon­sored vio­lence of the Holocaust.

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

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