HarperCollins Germany to review controversial book about the betrayal of Anne Frank in light of questions about claims in it

Anne Frank passport photo from 1942 (Photo: Wikipedia)

The German publisher of a book claiming to uncover the person responsible for betraying Anne Frank, her family, and several others to the Nazis has announced that it is conducting a review of the volume’s contents prior to making a decision about whether to publish as planned in March. Jürgen Welte, publisher of HarperCollins Germany, says he wants to take another look at the manuscript in light of concerns raised by historians about the reliability of its key revelations before making a commitment to publishing. The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation, by Canadian author Rosemary Sullivan, was published in North America (by HarperCollins) and the Netherlands on January 18. It attracted immediate controversy over its assertions, resulting in Dutch publisher Ambo Anthos apologizing for its release and halting printing of the book.

The Betrayal of Anne Frank details a cold-case investigation spearheaded by Dutch documentarian Thijs Bayens and journalist Pieter van Twisk. In 2016, the pair teamed with Vince Pankoke, a retired FBI special agent, to delve into one of the most enduring mysteries arising out of the Holocaust: who was responsible for turning in Frank, her family, and four other Jews hiding from the Nazis in the annex of an Amsterdam warehouse? The Franks took refuge in the annex, which was hidden by a bookcase on hinges, in 1942; the Nazis raided the hideout on August 4, 1944. The entire Frank family was deported to Auschwitz; Anne would die in Bergen-Belsen in 1945 at the age of fifteen. The only family member to survive the camps was Anne’s father, Otto Frank, who went on to publish his daughter’s diary, which she composed while in hiding. The Diary of a Young Girl has since become one of the most popular and significant documents about the Jewish experience during the Holocaust.

What makes the revelations in The Betrayal of Anne Frank so explosive is the identity of the person the investigative team landed on as the Franks’ betrayer. The book names Arnold van den Bergh, a Jewish notary and member of the Jewish Council who died in 1950, as the individual who supplied the location of the hiding place to the Nazis.

The possibility that the Franks were betrayed by a fellow Jew is charged with potential for sensationalism and misuse by anti-Semites; the right-wing British tabloid the Daily Mail published a story on January 17 with a headline reading, “Anne Frank was betrayed by a JEWISH notary who told Nazis where she was hiding to save his own family.” The headline would seem to indicate that the cold-case team’s research ended with a definitive conclusion, but scholars of the Holocaust are not united in that assessment.

Indeed, it took less than twenty-four hours for experts to weigh in with criticisms of the book’s assertions and the underlying investigative methodology. The New York Times quotes Ronald Leopold, executive director of Anne Frank House, as saying that there is “no basis for a conclusion” to be drawn from the information presented in the book. The NYT also quotes Emile Schrijver, director of the Jewish Cultural Quarter in Amsterdam, as saying, “This is an enormous accusation that they made using a load of assumptions, but it’s really based on nothing more than a snippet of information.”

The snippet of information Schrijver refers to is an anonymous note sent to Otto Frank following his release from Auschwitz after the war. The note apparently names van den Bergh as the person responsible for informing on the family. As historian Allan Levine points out in the Globe and Mail, Otto Frank provided the information to the official investigation of the Franks’ betrayal in 1963–64, but it did not lead anywhere. Levine writes:

It is speculated that the existence of the note was not widely publicized because Mr. Frank presumably did not want to implicate a Jew in this crime, especially after Anne’s diary had become famous during the fifties and its authenticity was publicly questioned (and still is by Holocaust deniers). But Mr. Frank’s motives are merely guessed at. And far too much is ascribed to an off-the-cuff remark by [Miep Gies, one of the Dutch citizens who helped hide the Franks] in 1994, when she was 85. During a lecture she was giving at the University of Michigan, she was asked, “Who gave the Franks away?” and said the betrayer had died by 1960. This hardly incriminates Mr. Van den Bergh. Moreover, we do not know who sent the note to Mr. Frank nor why. Ms. Sullivan does concede that it may have been someone falsely accusing Mr. Van den Bergh.

Sullivan told the Globe’s Marsha Lederman that the team’s determination was distressing, “the last thing you wanted.” She also says she views van den Bergh as a tragic figure caught up in the tide of history and goes out of her way to underscore that the villains responsible for the Franks’ deaths were the Nazis, full stop.

That has not assuaged Welte, who is following two substantive edits on the manuscript with an in-house review of the book’s contents in the wake of the international controversy. Ambo Anthos, meanwhile, has written to Sullivan to say that the Dutch house should have adopted a “more critical stance” to the book and will suspend publication until certain questions about the research can be resolved.

“In the end, the case against [van den Bergh] essentially comes down to a few pieces of evidence,” Levine writes. “Yet it is all speculative and circumstantial at best, with many questions unanswered. (As has been pointed out by several critics, throughout the book Ms. Sullivan uses such phrases as ‘likely,’ “probably,’ and ‘although the team cannot be certain …’)” NIOD Institute of War researcher Laurien Vastenhout goes further, saying the team’s research is “full of errors.”

For his part, van Twisk stands by his group’s work and says that the case’s circumstantial nature is not grounds for tossing out their conclusions. “Circumstantial evidence is also evidence.”

HarperCollins Germany to review controversial book about the betrayal of Anne Frank in light of questions about claims in it
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