Ambo Anthos Uitgevers, the Dutch publisher of a book claiming to identify the person responsible for betraying Anne Frank and her family to the Nazis during the Second World War, announced yesterday they would cease publication and distribution of the volume. The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation, by Canadian writer Rosemary Sullivan, attracted criticism upon its initial release in January for what historians of the Holocaust suggest is a conclusion arising out of faulty assumptions and historical misunderstandings.
Based on the research of a cold-case team that included documentarian Thijs Bayens, journalist Pieter van Twisk, and former FBI agent Vince Pankoke, the book named Jewish notary Arnold van den Bergh as the person probably responsible for tipping off the Nazis to the hiding place of Frank, her family, and four others in an Amsterdam annex in 1944. Sullivan was not part of the cold-case group that undertook the investigation.
Almost immediately following the publication of the heavily embargoed title, questions began to arise about the assertions in the work and the methodology behind the project. Ambo Anthos halted printing of the book in January while it waited for the results of an independent team’s review of the contents. Upon the release of the group’s report – which it characterizes as a “refutation” of the book – the Dutch publisher issued a statement saying that it was withdrawing the title and requesting that booksellers return any unsold stock. HarperCollins Germany halted plans for publication of the book in early February, saying it wanted to take another look at the contents before making a final decision. The book is published in Canada by HarperCollins.
The report by six prominent European historians assesses that the book contains “significant mistakes” in both its content and the approach of the cold-case team (which the report refers to as “CCT”). It specifically notes sparseness and inaccuracy in sourcing material, poor understanding of historical context, and tunnel vision on the part of the cold-case researchers.
In their conclusion, the historians observe, in part:
The entire body of evidence in the Van den Bergh case is built on presuppositions, which are initially launched as hypotheses and with some nuance, but subsequently assumed to be true. For example, on page 259, the granddaughter is claimed to have said that if her grandfather was indeed guilty of the betrayal, it could only have intended to save the lives of his wife and daughters. That option becomes a fact for the CCT a little later: ‘He saved his family by giving up addresses to the SD.’
One of the people who disputes this is van den Bergh’s granddaughter, Mirjam de Gorter. According to the New York Times, “De Gorter said she discovered that during the summer of 1944, when the Franks were betrayed, Mr. van den Bergh and his wife were in hiding in the town of Laren, at Leemkuil 11. They were seen there by a friend, Gerard Huijseen, who noted visiting them in his wartime diary. The van den Bergh’s children had already been placed in hiding in October 1943, she said.” The fact that the entire family was already in hiding, de Gorter notes, would make it completely unnecessary for van den Bergh to use the Franks’ location as collateral to secure their safety.
On the subject of van den Bergh’s association with the Jewish Council, an administrative body set up by the Nazis, the team of researchers has significant concerns, writing:
In addition to pointing out the errors in the argumentation and use of sources, this report also presents a historical reconstruction of Arnold van den Bergh’s actions and his role within the Jewish Council. This shows that the accusation of betrayal a) does not match the picture of his personality that emerges from the sources; b) is based on the erroneous assumption of the existence of lists of hiding addresses within the Jewish Council; and c) does not fit with the timeline of Van den Bergh’s actions during the war.
They suggest that the existence of a letter identifying van den Bergh as the individual who betrayed the Franks is “very weak evidence” given that all sorts of spurious accusations were levelled in the immediate aftermath of the war and the cold-case team does not offer sufficient corroboration to back up the claim of van den Bergh’s guilt.
Writing in defence of the cold-case team’s work, Pankoke takes issue with some of the criticisms levelled against the book and the research behind it:
It is important to understand that although investigators deal with facts, we speculate by the use of scenarios how something would or could have happened. Or in this case, who could have possibly known about the lists being passed. Although at this point we can’t be sure as to who the identity of the anonymous note’s author, what it is certain is that the author possessed specific knowledge of Van den Bergh passing the list of addresses.
While Pankoke says that he and his team remain “very open to challenges” against the book and its research, the team has to date not encountered “any piece of evidence or any new information that had enough strength to challenge our conclusion.”