On August 1, 1944, 15-year-old Anne Frank penned a journal entry describing herself as a “bundle of contradictions.” Reflecting on the warring sides of her personality, the Jewish diarist wrote, “I’m guided by the pure Anne within, but on the outside I’m nothing but a frolicsome little goat tugging at its tether.” She concluded with a pledge to “keep trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and what I could be if … if only there were no other people in the world.”
Three days after Frank wrote these words—the final entry in her beloved diary—SS officers raided her Amsterdam hiding place and arrested its eight inhabitants. Frank and her older sister, Margot, died of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp less than a year later, in February 1945. Only one of the people in hiding, Frank’s father, Otto, survived World War II. The Amsterdam home where she and her family hid is today a museum known as the Anne Frank House.
Scholars and the public alike have long debated the identity of the individual (or individuals) who betrayed Frank, her family and the other residents of the so-called Secret Annex. “[T]he list of people who were accused of being involved in the case is too long to include in its entirety,” notes the Anne Frank House on its website. Now, reports Jon Wertheim for CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” a six-year investigation spearheaded by retired FBI agent Vince Pankoke has pinpointed the likely informant: Arnold van den Bergh, a Jewish notary who may have revealed the Franks’ hiding place to the Nazis to protect his own family from deportation.
As a member of the local Jewish Council—administrative bodies established by the Nazis to govern Jewish communities in German-occupied Europe—van den Bergh had access to lists of addresses where Jews were known to be in hiding.
“There's no evidence to indicate that he knew who was hiding at any of these addresses,” Pankoke tells “60 Minutes.” “[But] 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.”
Pankoke and his colleagues, including an investigative psychologist, a war crimes investigator, historians, criminologists and archivists, approached the historical mystery like a criminal cold case. Per the New York Times’ Alexandra Jacobs, the team drew on a combination of big data and artificial intelligence analysis, “old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting,” interviews, and archival research to narrow down the pool of suspects. Writer Rosemary Sullivan chronicled the painstaking process in a new book, The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation.
“We have investigated over 30 suspects in 20 different scenarios, leaving one scenario we like to refer to as the most likely scenario,” filmmaker and team member Thijs Bayens tells Mike Corder of the Associated Press (AP). “... We don’t have 100 percent certainty. There is no smoking gun because betrayal is circumstantial.”
Potential informants ruled out by the group ranged from Willem van Maaren, an oft-cited suspect who worked in the warehouse where the Franks were hiding, to Nelly Voskuijl, a Nazi sympathizer and the sister of Secret Annex helper Bep Vokuijl, to Ans van Dijk, a Jewish collaborator whose actions led to the arrest of some 145 people. The researchers also investigated the theory, first raised by scholars at the Anne Frank House in 2016, that the SS discovered the hiding place by chance while searching the warehouse for evidence of illegal work and ration coupon fraud.
The key to the mystery proved to be a note sent to Otto Frank shortly after his return to Amsterdam in June 1945. Left unsigned, the message named van den Bergh as the person who’d reported the Franks’ hiding place to the Nazis. The note came to authorities’ attention during a 1963 investigation into the betrayal but received little notice, with police instead focusing their efforts on suspects such as van Maaren.
As Pankoke tells “60 Minutes,” the team managed to track down a copy of the note after reaching out to the son of one of the 1963 investigators. Records discovered in the Dutch national archives by journalist Pieter van Twisk, co-founder of the research project, seemingly corroborated the claim, suggesting that a member of Amsterdam’s Jewish Council turned over lists of addresses where Jews were hiding. Though the Nazis dissolved the council in September 1943, sending most of its members to concentration and death camps, van den Bergh and his family managed to escape deportation—an exemption indicating that the notary “had some kind of leverage,” according to Pankoke.
Otto, for his part, never publicly named van den Bergh, who died in 1950, as the informant. But a few years after the war, reports Hanneloes Pen for Dutch newspaper Het Parool, he told a journalist that his family had been betrayed by a member of the Jewish community. And, during a 1994 lecture, Secret Annex helper Miep Gies “let slip” that the informant died prior to 1960.
Speaking with Marsha Lederman of the Globe and Mail, Sullivan says the researchers characterize the notary as “a tragic figure, not as some kind of villain.” Bayens tells the AP that “[w]e went looking for a perpetrator and we found a victim.”
Van den Bergh gave “that list as a way of keeping him and his family out of the extermination camps,” Sullivan says. “… And it really matters to me, and I think it mattered to the group, that that was an anonymous list of addresses—there were no names. He was not betraying Otto Frank.”
Ronald Leopold, director of the Anne Frank House, points out that “many missing pieces of the puzzle” remain, telling the AP, “I don’t think we can say that [the] mystery has been solved now.”
Erik Somers, a historian at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, praised the depth of the investigation but criticized its conclusion. As he tells Anthony Deutsch and Stephanie van den Berg of Reuters, van den Bergh was “a very influential man” who could’ve avoided deportation for any number of reasons. “They seem to work from the point of view that he was guilty and [find] a motive to fit that,” Somers adds.
Regardless of whether van den Bergh was the person who informed on the Franks, the ones ultimately responsible for their deaths—and those of the more than 100,000 Dutch Jews murdered during the Holocaust—were the Nazis.
“I think that nobody can judge van den Bergh who has not been in his position,” Sullivan tells the Globe and Mail. “And who among us, if our families were on the line and heading to extermination camps, wouldn’t do what we could? And if what we could do would be to offer anonymous addresses, I don’t know that I know many people who could resist it.”