Anne Frank is one of the most well-known names in history. Her diary is read in schools around the world, and her story is one that has broken many hearts over the decades.
Her father, Otto Frank, was the only one of the Franks to make it out alive, and after the war, he pursued the question that had been plaguing him ever since that horrible day in 1944 when he and his family were discovered hiding in an annex behind his warehouse in Amsterdam.
Who had betrayed them?
For years he hunted the answer to that question — but then suddenly, he stopped. Since then, many other investigations have taken place, but no one has seemed to be able to identify the individual or individuals who gave away the Franks’ hiding place.
In 2016, Dutch filmmaker and documentarian Thijs Bayens decided to take the plunge.
“For me, it was really important to investigate what makes us– give up on each other,” he told CBS News, which did a special on the investigation that was released on Sunday. “The area where Anne Frank lived is very normal. And it’s a very warm area with the butcher and the doctor and the policeman. They worked together. They loved each other. They lived together. And suddenly people start to betray on each other. How could that happen?”
Treating the situation like a cold case, Bayens knew he needed a seasoned investigator, so he reached out to a retired FBI special agent.
Vince Pankoke had been all over the world during his 30 years with the FBI and had made a name for himself by doing what he did very well.
“I received a call from a colleague from the Netherlands who said, ‘If you–if you’re done laying on the beach, we have a case for you,'” he recalled.
“After he told me it was to, you know, try to solve the mystery of what caused the raid–for Anne Frank and the others in the annex. I needed to hear more.”
At first, Pankoke was worried the story would be mishandled and not given the respect it deserved, but Bayens assured him that they would be doing independent research and he would have complete autonomy.
So he decided to join. A team was assembled that included historians, criminologists, archival researchers, a war crimes investigator, an investigative psychologist and an artificial intelligence program that would be able to scan through all the information they collected.
After visiting the scene of the crime that had taken place over seven decades ago, the team started compiling information on everyone who lived around the annex, as those people would be most aware of any of the clues the family gave as they were in hiding.
The AI program found that several Nazi party members and informants lived very close by.
“All living just a wall or two away from one another,” Pankoke said. “When you take a look at the threats the question isn’t, you know, what caused the raid. The question might be: how did they last more than two years without being discovered?”
The team continued collecting letters, maps, arrest records, photos, books and other documents and adding them into the database for the AI program to scan. Pankoke said that the program saved them “thousands and thousands of man-hours.”
The researchers also determined that the informant was likely someone who had been arrested or under threat of arrest, as the first question Nazi officers often asked those they were arresting was whether they knew where any other Jews were hiding.
After much work, a name started to come forward. It belonged to a man living openly in Amsterdam — someone who, given his background and status, shouldn’t have been able to live so openly at the time.
Arnold van den Bergh.
A well-known businessman, he was also a Jew and was a member of the Nazi-established “Jewish council” set up to covertly further the Nazis’ control.
As they looked into the name, the researchers were surprised to find that the man’s name had come up in an investigation into the case from decades ago. The name popped up in connection to Otto Frank himself.
“We read just one small paragraph that mentioned that during the interview of Otto Frank, he told them that shortly after liberation, he received an anonymous note identifying his betrayer of the address where they were staying, the annex, as Arnold van den Bergh,” Pankoke said.
And it all made terrible sense.
“Well, in his role as being a founding member of the Jewish Council, he would have had privy to addresses where Jews were hiding,” Pankoke explained. “When van den Bergh lost all his series of protections exempting him from having to go to the camps, he had to provide something valuable to the Nazis that he’s had contact with to let him and his wife at that time stay safe.”
That would explain why van den Bergh remained living openly in Amsterdam after the Jewish Council was disbanded in 1943 and the other members had been sent to the camps. (Van den Bergh died in 1950.)
After more than five years on the case, the team was torn over the discovery, as they now guess Otto Frank must have been when he was given van den Bergh’s name. The crimes of the Nazis dehumanized people and drove many to horrible inhumanities, even to the point of one Jew potentially betraying another as they all struggled to survive.
A book was released on Tuesday giving even more details on the case.
“I would like to thank 60 Minutes for covering our cold case investigation into the betrayal of Anne Frank and the others with her in the annex,” Pankoke shared on his Facebook page on Sunday. “I am honored to have been able to help shed light on a case that had lingered so long in the dark. My deepest thanks goes out to the incredibly dedicated and talented team that worked tirelessly with me to make this possible.
“Of course, in a television segment, only so much information can be included. I look forward to sharing more of the story in Rosemary Sullivan’s book, The Betrayal of Anne Frank, which will be available on Tuesday in bookstores throughout the world.”
Bayens expressed his pain over the results of their investigation, saying it wasn’t the answer they wanted, but that he hopes the discovery reminds people just how atrocious Nazi rule was.
“[I]t shows you how bizarre the Nazi regime really operated, and how they brought people to do these terrible things,” Bayens said.
“The– the real question is, what would I have done? That’s the real question.”
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