Who betrayed Anne Frank? Cold case team shines new light on mystery

A cold case team attempting to unravel one of the most enduring mysteries of the Second World War — who betrayed Jewish teenage diarist Anne Frank and her family — has reached what it calls the "most likely scenario" in the case.

Investigation outlined in new book by Canadian academic and author Rosemary Sullivan

A man looks at an exhibition about Anne Frank at the Victory museum in Sibenik, Croatia, in 2017. Cold case investigators have identified the person they believe most likely betrayed the Jewish teenage diarist and her family. (Antonio Bronic/Reuters)

A cold case team that combed through evidence for five years in a bid to unravel one of the most enduring mysteries of the Second World War has reached what it calls the "most likely scenario" of who betrayed Jewish teenage diarist Anne Frank and her family.

Their answer, outlined in a new book called The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation, by Canadian academic and author Rosemary Sullivan, is that it could have been a prominent Jewish notary named Arnold van den Bergh, who disclosed the secret annex hiding place of the Frank family to German occupiers in Amsterdam to save his own family from deportation and murder in Nazi concentration camps.

"We have investigated over 30 suspects in 20 different scenarios, leaving one scenario we like to refer to as the most likely scenario," said filmmaker Thijs Bayens, who had the idea to put together the cold case team, that was led by retired FBI agent Vincent Pankoke, to forensically examine the evidence.

Bayens was quick to note that the team didn't have "100 per cent certainty."

"There is no smoking gun because betrayal is circumstantial," Bayens told The Associated Press on Monday.

Diary published after death

The Franks and four other Jews hid in secret rooms of an Amsterdam canal house, reached by a staircase hidden behind a bookcase, from July 1942 until they were discovered in August 1944 and deported to concentration camps.

Only Anne's father, Otto Frank, survived the war. Anne and her sister died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Anne was 15.

Filmmaker Thijs Bayens came up with the idea of pulling together a cold case team to analyze evidence in the hunt for the person who betrayed the Frank family. (Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)

The diary Anne wrote while in hiding was published after the war and became a symbol of hope and resilience that has been translated into dozens of languages and read by millions.

But the identity of the person who gave away the location of their hiding place has always remained a mystery, despite previous investigations.

The team's findings suggest that Otto Frank was one of the first to hear about the possible involvement of Van den Bergh, a prominent member of the Jewish community in Amsterdam.

According to Sullivan, Otto kept Van den Bergh's possible involvement a secret in order to protect the lives and reputation of his children. 

"There was so much antisemitism that … I would think that Otto Frank didn't want to give further fire to the antisemites," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

LISTEN | Unravelling the mystery of who betrayed Anne Frank and her family

A new book dives into the riddle of who betrayed Anne Frank and her family to the Nazis. Matt Galloway talks to Rosemary Sullivan, author of The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation.

A brief note, a typed copy of an anonymous tip delivered to Otto Frank after the war, names Van den Bergh, who died in 1950, as the person who informed German authorities in Amsterdam where to find the Frank family, the researchers say.

The note was an overlooked part of a decades-old Amsterdam police investigation that was reviewed by the team, which used artificial intelligence to analyze and draw links between archives around the world.

Still 'missing pieces of the puzzle'

The Anne Frank House museum in the canal-side Amsterdam building that includes the secret annex welcomed the new research, but said it also leaves questions unanswered.

The museum gave the researchers access to its archives for the cold case project.

Ronald Leopold, executive director of the Anne Frank House, answers questions next to the passage to the secret annex during an interview in Amsterdam on Monday. (Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)

"No, I don't think we can say that a mystery has been solved now. I think it's an interesting theory that the team came up with," said museum director Ronald Leopold.

"I think they come up with a lot of interesting information, but I also think there are still many missing pieces of the puzzle. And those pieces need to be further investigated in order to see how we can value this new theory."

WATCH | Cold case team sheds light on who betrayed Anne Frank: 

Identity of Anne Frank’s betrayer uncovered by researchers

1 year ago
Duration 2:01
A group of researchers, including one from the University of Toronto, say Anne Frank’s betrayer was a member of Amsterdam's Jewish Council, which was set up to carry out Nazi policies in the city’s Jewish areas.

Bayens said the hunt for the betrayer was also a way of looking for an explanation of how the horror of the Nazi occupation forced some members of a once close-knit Amsterdam community to turn on one another.

He wondered how fascism brought people "to the desperate point of betraying each other, which is an awful, really awful situation." 

According to Sullivan, Van den Bergh was himself also being pursued by the Nazis. He had already fled his home with his wife and their children were in hiding. His bank account had been frozen.

"And when it came to the decision," she said, "do you give a list of anonymous names to the Nazis, or do you watch yourself or your wife and possibly your children being deported to extermination camps? I don't see how we can judge a man for that unless we were in his shoes."

With files from CBC Radio's The Current