Who betrayed Anne Frank and her family to the Nazis during World War II remains one of the most haunting unsolved mysteries of the Holocaust. In 1944, the Franks were discovered in their secret annex in Amsterdam and sent to concentration camps, where Anne later died at the age of 15. But the identity of the person who gave up their hiding place has never been conclusively proven, despite numerous investigations over the decades.
The latest attempt to solve this cold case made headlines in early 2022, when a team led by former FBI agent Vince Pankoke accused Arnold van den Bergh, a Jewish notary, of being the likely culprit. However, their book making this claim, "The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation," has since been heavily criticized and discredited by historians and the Anne Frank House itself. The search for definitive answers continues, as the betrayal of Anne Frank remains an open wound for many.
The Prominence and Tragedy of Anne Frank
Anne Frank endures as one of the most recognizable faces of the Holocaust. Born in Germany in 1929, she and her family moved to Amsterdam in 1933 after the Nazis rose to power. In 1942, as persecution of Jews intensified, the Franks went into hiding in a secret annex behind Otto Frank's business. For two years, they quietly lived in the annex along with another family, the van Pels, and a dentist named Fritz Pfeffer.
During this time, 13-year-old Anne kept a diary describing her thoughts and experiences. She wrote candidly about the confinement of living in hiding, her relationships with the others, and her hopes for the future. Her diary captured the humanity and potential of one young girl while also serving as a real-time document of a Jewish family desperately trying to survive the Holocaust.
Tragically, in August 1944 their hiding place was raided after someone betrayed them to authorities. The eight people in the annex were arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Only Otto Frank survived the war. After returning to Amsterdam, he was given Anne's diary, which had been saved by Miep Gies, one of their helpers. In 1947, Otto published the diary, titled The Diary of a Young Girl. It has since been translated into over 70 languages and is considered one of the most important books of the 20th century.
The arrest and deportation of the Franks to concentration camps, where Anne perished right before the end of the war, remains one of the most haunting episodes of the Holocaust. It also left behind the lingering question: who was responsible for the betrayal?
The Recent Investigation and Book Implicating Arnold van den Bergh
In 2016, Vince Pankoke, a former FBI agent with expertise in cold cases, assembled a team to reinvestigate who gave up the Frank's hiding place using modern technology and techniques. Their inquiry culminated in a 2022 book titled The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation. Written by Canadian author Rosemary Sullivan, it presents the dramatic conclusion that Arnold van den Bergh, a prominent Jewish notary in Amsterdam, was likely the betrayer.
According to the book, van den Bergh was a member of the Jewish Council, an administrative body the Nazis forced Jews to form. The investigators theorize that in 1944, van den Bergh revealed the annex's location in order to save himself and his own family from being deported. As evidence, they cite an anonymous note received by Otto Frank after the war identifying van den Bergh as the traitor. The team also used artificial intelligence to analyze archives and build a profile pointing to him.
The book's sensational accusation immediately made international news upon its release in January 2022. However, it was soon met by intense criticism from historians, researchers, and the Anne Frank House itself. The evidence presented was circumstantial, and core elements of the theory did not hold up to scrutiny.
Skepticism from the Anne Frank House and Experts
The Anne Frank House, which oversees the annex as a museum in Amsterdam, took the unusual step of openly questioning the investigation's findings. In a statement, they highlighted the lack of hard evidence and missing pieces of the puzzle.
Ronald Leopold, Executive Director of the Anne Frank House, praised the team's efforts but noted:
"There are still many missing pieces of the puzzle. The new research does not provide absolute certainty, and the circumstances of the arrest remain unclear...More research is needed to see how we can come closer to the truth."
A report commissioned by the museum also refuted the notion that the Jewish Council had lists of hiding places, which was key to the book's betrayal theory. Historians noted the danger of making assumptions about how the Council operated under Nazi coercion.
Other critics pointed out that the anonymous postwar note naming van den Bergh had questionable origins. The Anne Frank House could not authenticate it. There were also doubts around the team's use of AI and problems with their suspect profile of van den Bergh.
Overall, most experts agreed that the evidence was simply too thin and circumstantial to definitively pin the betrayal on van den Bergh as the book claimed. The identity of the betrayer remained shrouded in mystery.
Other Suspects Over the Years
Van den Bergh is not the first person to be investigated as potentially being Anne Frank's betrayer. Over the decades, others have also been theorized as possible culprits, reflecting the continued intrigue around the cold case.
One alternative suspect is Willem van Maaren, a warehouse manager who worked in the building where the annex was located. He was known to be suspicious of those around him and was accused after the war of collaborating with the Nazis. Some posit he noticed unusual activity and reported it.
Lena Hartog, who worked in Otto Frank's office, was another possibility. In the 1960s, Otto Frank himself reportedly believed she may have betrayed them after growing resentful of the help provided to the families in hiding. She died in the 1950s, so the theory could not be further explored.
Cleaning lady Lena van Bladeren has also come under suspicion after an interview decades later where she recalled being aware people were hiding in the annex and having contacts with the Gestapo Jewish Affairs Bureau.
Others proposed as potential betrayers over time include Ans van Dijk, a Jewish informant who revealed locations of hundreds of Jews in hiding. Some have suggested she could have heard rumors of the annex and told authorities.
Then there is Nelly Voskuijl, one of the Frank family's helpers. Her sister worked in the office below the annex, which led to speculation that she discovered those in hiding and disclosed it, perhaps for money.
Tonny Ahlers is another name put forward at times. A member of the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands, he was rumored to have had connections with Otto Frank's company. However, proof connecting him to the raid on the annex is lacking.
Some theories even considered the possibility of one of the annex residents betraying the rest. Pfeffer or van Pels were suggested due to having non-Jewish family ties that could have secured their release if they cooperated. But no evidence indicates either actually did.
While all these figures have come under suspicion and been investigated to varying degrees, conclusive proof of betrayal has never been established. The wide range of possibilities put forward itself highlights the lack of certainty around the case.
Conclusion: An Enduring Mystery
Who ultimately betrayed Anne Frank and her family may never be known with absolute certainty barring some dramatic future discovery. The various investigations to solve the mystery over the past 75+ years have failed to provide definitive answers.
The 2022 attempt by Pankoke's cold case team gained global attention when their book accused Arnold van den Bergh. But the swift backlash from experts and the Anne Frank House itself showed the theory did not hold up under scrutiny. The betrayal of Anne Frank remains an open wound for many given her prominence as a Holocaust victim.
Yet the unresolved question of how the Nazis discovered the annex has also become part of the legacy of Anne Frank. It reflects the deep need to assign blame for a tragedy that cut short her life and talent. The allure of solving the cold case persists even as the passage of time makes it less likely. For now, the identity of Anne's betrayer continues to be one of World War II's most chilling unsolved mysteries.