Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Few people of my generation will fail to recognize the name Anne Frank. Anne was a thirteen-year-old Dutch girl whose family took steps to hide in an annex to Otto Frank’s business premises when Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands in the early 1940s. The Franks were Jews and therefore certain to be interned in a concentration camp and possibly murdered by their captors. In this respect, the Franks were no different from any other Jewish family except that Anne kept a remarkable daily account that detailed events in their lives until the tragedy that revealed the Franks to the Nazis. Even then a remarkable train of events saw Anne’s diary survive the depredations of the war. Tragically, only Otto Frank, Anne’s father, survived.
Rosemary Sullivan’s book The Betrayal of Anne Frank examines the question that has been discussed more thoroughly than virtually any other in modern times: who betrayed the Franks to the Nazis? Ordinary people, scholars with fine reputations, even the famous Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal who brought Mengele and Eichmann to justice, have spent time on the question only for the answer to elude them. Readers may research the question on Google, but the supplied answer is wrong.
Sullivan’s book takes the form of a cold case investigation into the most probable identity of the betrayer. The study lays down the ground rules that will define the procedures a team of experts will follow. Led by a retired FBI agent, a group of researchers pored over tens of thousands of pages of documents that were known to scholars or were completely new and interviewed vast numbers of descendants of the prisoners of Auschwitz. The goal of understanding how the arrest of the Franks was brought about became tainted by an even more shattering revelation of the identity of the most likely culprit.
Reports of a cold case investigation are notorious for the high calibre of their boredom status. The report on this research into man’s behaviour is enlightening, never boring. Not only does Sullivan profile several captives and their murderous captors, but she also brings to life the terror that slouched through the streets of the city or huddled in the darkness to betray any citizen who might attract payment from the Germans.
This report is more than a study of man’s response to an occupying, inimical race. There are factual reports of modern-day groups jealously guarding information, refusing to share what they have, and regarding other groups as of lower status. The degree of acrimony made experienced scholars weep. In terms of pettiness the interest group called Anne Frank Fonds (AFF) was remarkable. This group’s obstructiveness began with the implication that AFF possessed information that would scuttle further investigation by any other group and ended with an outright refusal to cooperate because the words Anne Frank were proposed as part of the title of the new report.
Sullivan’s study is complex. It hits the reader with incidental information that is as shocking as anything the Nazis were plotting. The groups of friends assisting the authors were themselves riddled with suspect practices. One such helper was a fervent NSB member and an employee of the local SD office. At one time, because of a family argument, it was believed that one family’s aunt may have been the Frank family betrayer. Suspicion arose that a neighbour answered a German officer’s question about the location of the Frank’s hiding place by pointing to a floor above. These were petty irritants that had to be investigated.
This is the report of a comprehensive study into the identity of a betrayer. Readers are left with a name that seems to answer the question but may be inaccurate. The confusion arises because of one late obstruction that keeps a definitive answer from being given. Far more important in my view, given that all the protagonists are now dead, is the methodology of the cold case investigation: the care that assumptions which may be unwarranted are discarded if the known facts do not agree, the meticulous examination of each piece of data to ensure its veracity and relevance, and, as important if not more so, the sensitivity with which the Frank family, and through them the Jewish community, is portrayed.
On these grounds alone, I recommend this book.
By Rosemary Sullivan
$32.99; 398 pp