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New Investigation Into Who Betrayed Anne Frank's Family During World War II Reveals Surprising Suspect

Investigators, led by FBI veteran Vince Pankoke, discovered Anne Frank's father had received an anonymous letter after the war naming Arnold van den Bergh as the person who betrayed the family by providing their location to the Nazis in 1944. 

By Jill Sederstrom
Anne Frank G

Anne Frank’s harrowing story of living in a small annex behind an Amsterdam warehouse for more than two years before her family was captured by the Nazis and hauled away has long stood as a testament to the horrors Jewish families endured during World World II.

But now, more than 75 years later, an investigation led by a former FBI agent into who may have betrayed the Frank family has led to a surprising suspect.

Although there have been theories that the Frank family may have been turned in to authorities by a neighbor or someone working at the warehouse, a new investigative team led by FBI veteran Vince Pankoke believes the most likely suspect was a Jewish businessman and father who once served as a member of the Jewish Council in Holland, according to the book “The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation.”

Pankoke and his team of historians, criminologists and data specialists have pointed to Arnold van den Bergh, a Jewish notary, as the leading suspect in the betrayal of the Franks. They believe he may have revealed the location of the hideout, ultimately leading to the family’s capture on Aug. 4, 1944, CNN reports.

The Frank family lived in secret for 761 days, which Anne documented in her diary, published by her father in 1947, several years after her death, under the title “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.”

Pankoke told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that van den Bergh had served on a Jewish Council, secretly set up by the Nazis to enforce their anti-Semitic policies. Some believe that those who served on the councils may have been spared from the concentration camps for their cooperation.

According to Pankoke, van den Bergh was never sent to a concentration camp and was instead “living an open life in the middle of Amsterdam,” which caused investigators to question whether he had some kind of “leverage” that ensured his freedom.

Anne’s father Otto Frank—the only family member to survive the concentration camps—later told authorities during a 1963 investigation that he had “received an anonymous note identifying his betrayer of the address where they were staying” as van den Bergh, who had allegedly handed the Nazis a list of addresses where other Jewish families were staying.

Pankoke and his team were able to recover a copy of the note that Otto had typed up at some point, during a search of files from one of the investigators still being stored by the investigator’s son in 2018.

While Pankoke refrained from calling it a “smoking gun” he did say it “feels like a warm gun with the evidence of the bullet sitting nearby.”

Another member of the team was also able to verify with the national archive that somebody from the Jewish Council had been turning over lists of addresses, he said.

He theorized that van den Bergh—who died in 1950—may have handed over the information to try to save his own family.

“Well, in his role as being a founding member of the Jewish Council, he would have had privy to addresses where Jews were hiding,” Pankoke told “60 Minutes.” “When van den Bergh lost all his series of protections exempting him from having to go to the camps, he had to provide something valuable to the Nazis that he's had contact with to let him and his wife at that time stay safe.”

He also speculated that Otto may have kept the note to himself because he wasn’t able to conclusively prove that van den Bergh had been behind the leak and wanted to prevent further anti-Semitism in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

“He knew that Arnold van den Bergh was Jewish, and in this period after the war, anti-Semitism was still around,” he said. “So perhaps he just felt that if I bring this up again, with Arnold van den Bergh being Jewish, it’ll only stoke the fires further. But we have to keep in mind that the fact that he was Jewish just meant that he was placed in a untenable position by the Nazis to do something to save his life.”

While the investigative team, which included a psychologist, criminologist and archival researchers, believes that van den Bergh was the most likely suspect to have betrayed the family, others have voiced skepticism about their conclusions.

Erik Somers, a historian with the Dutch NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, told CNN there could have many reasons why van den Bergh was never sent to a concentration camp, including that he had been “a very influential man.”

The Anne Frank Foundation—which was not part of the investigation but did provide access to its archives—released a statement following the investigation saying they had been “impressed” with the research.

“The cold case team’s investigation has generated important new information and a fascinating hypothesis that merit further research,” Executive Director Ronald Leopold said in the statement.

Pankoke also admitted there could be some “reasonable doubt” with the conclusions, citing the lengthy amount of time since the family’s location was compromised.

Anne Frank’s diary, which remains a compelling account of her family’s time in hiding and the impact on the then-15-year-old girl, has been translated to over 70 languages.

Pankoke and his team's research has published in a book, which was released Tuesday, and also explored in a documentary film.

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