Ex-FBI agent hunts for Anne Frank’s betrayer

Gone too soon: Anne spent 25 months in hiding from the Nazis, and eight in concentration camps.

Is it worth re-opening old mysteries? Ever since Anne Frank’s diary was published, readers have speculated about who betrayed her family to the Nazis. Now, Vince Pankoke intends to find out.

It was a warm August day in Amsterdam in 1944, when eight people living together in a cramped annex heard a terrifying sound. The door burst open, and a group of SS officers entered their secret hiding place. As the residents held up their arms in surrender, the officer in charge emptied out 15-year-old Anne Frank’s briefcase and demanded they hand over their valuables.

He did not notice the small diary that fell onto the floor. But once the occupants of the annex had been arrested and taken away to concentration camps, one of their friends returned and found it. She kept it safe until she was reunited with Anne’s father, Otto, the only occupant who survived the war.

Otto published Anne’s diary in 1947, and she quickly became one of the most famous writers of the 20th century.

But although we now know intimate details about Anne’s life in the annex, one key part of her story has always been a mystery: who betrayed her?

This week ex-FBI agent Vince Pankoke re-opened the case. He is leading a team of 19 experts, including historians, data scientists and behavioural psychologists. Although Pankoke is used to investigating Colombian drug cartels, he hopes that solving the Anne’s case will be the perfect ending to his career.

He has already found documents in the US archives that were previously thought lost. There are up to 25km of files, including lists of arrested Jews and informants from the time.

Pankoke’s team will use artificial intelligence to analyse the data and search for connections that human researchers might miss.

This is far from the first investigation into the betrayal. Otto was convinced that one particular worker in the factory below the annex was to blame. But despite two investigations, in 1948 and 1963, no evidence was found against him. Now around 30 people are suspects — although last year a report suggested that the Franks may have been found by accident.

“There are so many questions unanswered,” says Pankoke.

Looking for answers

Some say it is time to leave the Franks in peace. This case is almost 75 years old; even if a culprit is found, they are probably long dead. Knowing who was responsible will not give back the years that were taken from Anne. Instead of getting bogged down in details of the past, we should use her story as a warning to the present not to let history repeat itself.

Others argue that this is an important question. For one thing, analysing all of that data could end up providing answers for thousands more families affected by the Holocaust, in addition to Anne’s. And just because a case is old does not mean it no longer matters to people. As Pankoke himself put it: “There is no statute of limitation on the truth.”

You Decide

  1. Does it matter who betrayed Anne Frank and her family so many years after the event?
  2. What is the main lesson that society should learn from her story?

Activities

  1. This month, a new graphic novel is published based on Anne Frank’s story. Draw your own cartoon strip which explains this latest development.
  2. Using the links under Become An Expert, conduct your own investigation into the arrest of the Frank family, based on the evidence of previous reports. Then write 300 words explaining which theory you find most convincing and why.

Some People Say...

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

Anne Frank

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Anne Frank and her family went into hiding in July 1942, after her older sister Margot was told to report to a Nazi “work camp”. They hid in a secret annex at 263 Prinsengracht in Amsterdam for just over two years, but were discovered and arrested on August 4th 1944. Anne and her sister died from typhus in 1945, just weeks before the Bergen-Belsen camp was liberated.
What do we not know?
Exactly when the sisters died; their official death date, March 31st, was recorded after the end of the war. We also do not know how the SS officers who arrested them knew their hiding place. Although Otto Frank was convinced they were betrayed, several of the officers involved were looking into fraudulent ration cards at the time. It is possible that they found the annex this way.

Word Watch

Eight people
Anne, her sister Margot, and their parents Otto and Edith; Hermann van Pels, his wife Auguste, and their son Peter; and a dentist named Fritz Pfeffer. They were all Jewish.
Concentration camps
First to Westerbork, a transit camp in the Netherlands. Then to Auschwitz in Poland, where the women and men were separated and hundreds of thousands of people died, including Edith Frank. Anne and Margot were eventually sent to Bergen-Belsen in Germany.
Anne’s diary
Diary of a Young Girl has since sold over 30m copies and been translated into 67 languages.
Artificial intelligence
For example, millions of documents must be analysed in order to find out which SS officers or Dutch Nazi party members were living in the area at the time.
30 people
These range from a known Nazi supporter accused of blackmailing Otto, to a “Jew hunter” who betrayed at least 145 people in exchange for her own freedom.
Statute of limitation
A period of time after an event, during which a legal case can begin. For example, in the UK, personal injury claims must brought within three years.