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.