As It Happens

This FBI agent came out of retirement to find out who betrayed Anne Frank

Cold case investigators say they have found "new breadcrumbs" in the search for who betrayed Anne Frank to the Nazis.

'New breadcrumbs' and investigative techniques could help crack the case

Vince Pankoke says his team have uncovered 'new breadcrumbs' in the case probing who betrayed Anne Frank and the seven others she was hiding with during the Second World War. (Paul Fleming/Cold Case Diary )

Story transcript

Cold case investigators have found "new breadcrumbs" in the search for who betrayed Anne Frank to the Nazis, says a former FBI agent.

"We found plenty of gaps in the previous investigations and inquiries — leads that weren't followed up on, documents that were never checked, people that were never interviewed about their expertise in that area," Vince Pankoke told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"When we saw these gaps, we said, 'We must go out there and we must conduct a cold case investigation and try to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.'"

Pankoke, who came out of retirement after being lured to the case by a Dutch colleague, is leading a team of about 20 investigators looking into the 73-year-old question of who turned the world's most well-known Holocaust victim over to the Nazis. 

The effort is organized by filmmaker Thijs Bayens, who plans to turn it into a documentary.

'We might just be able to solve this'

In her memoir The Diary of a Young Girl, Frank extensively documents the two years she and her family spent hiding from the Nazis with four other people in the annex of an Amsterdam house during the Second World War German occupation of the Netherlands.

But it's never been clear who or what led the Gestapo to their hiding spot on Aug. 4, 1944. Of the eight people taken to concentration camps during the Nazi raid, only Anne's father Otto survived.

A view inside the house where Anne Frank hid with her parents, her sister and four other people. Everyone who knew they were there is a suspect, Pankoke says. (UIG via Getty Images)

Earlier investigations failed to find a culprit, but Pankoke says modern investigative tools — such as profiling and crowdsourcing — are shedding new light on the case.

"We have found new breadcrumbs, new pieces to the puzzle, so we have high hopes that we might just be able to solve this," he said.

A key element in the new probe, he said, is artificial intelligence. 

Months before she and her family were taken away by the Gestapo, Anne Frank was terrified after hearing a knock on the wall. (ADB-Bildarchiv/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

All of the research the team has compiled — statements, collaboration records, Dutch Nazi records and more — will be loaded into a database. An artificial intelligence program will then analyze everything.

"The artificial intelligence program will be able to make connections and associations of dates, persons and locations that would take a human investigator a minimum of 10 years to come up with," Pankoke said.

A terrifying knock

And then there's the knock.

In her diaries, Frank wrote about hearing a little knock on the wall that terrified her a few months before the raid.

"That knock is so important. Could people hear them next door? We're looking into that. Could people hear them in the courtyard? Almost definitely so," he said.

"We're going to actually do sound tests throughout that building and the courtyard to determine just how far sound could travel."

Investigators are using sound technology to determine who may have heard the families hiding in the The Anne Frank House during the war. (Thomas Imo/Photothek via Getty Images)

Because cold cases start from scratch, Pankoke said everyone is suspect.

"Everybody that would have had knowledge of them being in the annex or could have contacted them or would have had any motive or opportunity, they're considered suspects."

'The girl that we betrayed'

The idea that Anne Frank was betrayed by a Nazi collaborator is reflective of a national conversation about Dutch history happening right now in the Netherlands, Leiden University historian Bart van der Boom told the New York Times.

About 28,000 Jews hid from the Germans during the five-year occupation of the Netherlands. About one third were caught — largely due to the work of a small group of paid collaborators called "Jodenjagers," or Jew hunters, Van der Boom said.

"She used to be the girl that we protected and now she has become the girl that we betrayed," Van der Boom told the newspaper. "It's a function of how the Dutch perceive themselves during the occupation."

Flowers and stones lay on and in front of the gravestone of Anne Frank and her sister Margot. Their father Otto is the only member of the family who survived the Holocaust. (Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)

Even if investigators are able to solve the case, the guilty party or parties are likely long dead, Pankoke admits.

"My daughter sent me a little saying here that she saw on Instagram and that was, 'The world will not perish from those who do evil, but by those who stand by and do nothing,'" he said.

"I want to make sure that the world knows that there is a conscience out there and that time doesn't heal the evil. The only thing that can heal the evil is trying to investigate this, trying to show the people of the world that, you know, we can still have justice."

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