Experts express doubt that Anne Frank was betrayed by a Jewish notary

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Dpa Picture Alliance Archive/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Dpa Picture Alliance Archive/Alamy

Historians have voiced their scepticism about a book that has identified a Jewish notary as the prime suspect for the betrayal of Anne Frank and her family to the Nazis.

The Betrayal of Anne Frank, by Rosemary Sullivan, based on research gathered by retired FBI detective Vince Pankoke was published on Tuesday by HarperCollins with some fanfare.

A CBS 60 Minutes programme on Sunday evening highlighted the book’s tentative findings which were widely covered in the media, including the Guardian.

But researchers have now raised doubts about the central theory that Arnold van den Bergh, who died of throat cancer in 1950, probably led the police to the Frank family’s hiding place above a canal-side warehouse in the Jordaan area of Amsterdam on 4 August 1944.

The book claimed that as a member of the Jewish council in Amsterdam, an administrative body the German authorities forced Jews to establish, van den Bergh would have had access to the places in which Jewish people were hiding.

But David Barnouw, a Dutch author of the 2003 book Who Betrayed Anne Frank?, said he was not convinced.

He said: “The researchers rightly subject their findings to all sorts of caveats. However, they are very firm in their conviction of that poor notary. While I wonder whether he had access to a list of Jewish hiding places. The Jewish Council was far too law-abiding to make such a list, I think.”

The book, a result of a six-year investigation, suggests that van den Bergh, who acted as notary in the forced sale of works of art to prominent Nazis such as Hermann Göring, had been forced by risks to his own life to use addresses of hiding places as a form of life insurance for his family. Neither he nor his daughter were deported to the Nazi camps.

The investigators said they had found references to addresses being kept by the Jewish council. A further key piece of evidence was said to have been an anonymous note delivered after the war to Anne’s father, Otto Frank, the sole survivor among the direct family.

The note stated that van den Bergh had given away addresses to the Nazis including that in which Otto, Anne, her mother Edith, sister Margot, Hermann, Auguste and Peter van Pels, and Fritz Pfeffer, had sought to evade capture. The Franks hid for two years in a concealed annexe in the Jordaan area of Amsterdam before their arrest.

Ronald Leopold, director of the Anne Frank House, praised the investigation but he also counselled against taking the findings as definitive.

He said: “I have great appreciation for the impressive work of the team, the research has been carefully carried out. A lot of new information has been found, sufficient reason to follow the trail of notary van den Bergh.

Related: Anne Frank may have been betrayed by Jewish notary

“The most special find is the copy of the note. But many puzzle pieces remain. About the lists that would have been with the Jewish council, about the note and about the notary himself. These are all things that need to be investigated in order to strengthen the credibility of this theory.”

Despite a series of investigations, including two by the Dutch police, the mystery of who led the Nazis to the annexe remains unsolved. Otto Frank, who died in 1980, was thought to have a strong suspicion of that person’s identity but he never divulged it in public.

Following the arrest of the family, Anne was sent to Westerbork transit camp, and on to Auschwitz concentration camp before finally ending up in Bergen-Belsen, where she died in February 1945 at the age of 15, possibly from typhus. Her published diary spans the period in hiding between 1942 and her last entry on 1 August 1944.

Writing in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, Hanco Jürgens, a research assistant at the Germany Institute Amsterdam, said: “It seems much more likely that the arrest was coincidental. After all, five months earlier, two employees had been arrested for the clandestine trade in coupons.

“It could therefore equally be a regular check that resulted in the discovery of the hiding place. The fact that the people in hiding had to wait a long time for an arrest car points to this. But this theory is also based on assumptions.”