Holocaust: never again, never forget | Sunday Observer
Anne Frank family betrayer, a Jew himself

Holocaust: never again, never forget

23 January, 2022

I landed at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on Friday, May 3, 2019, and took a taxi to an address on Spuistraat, in the very centre of Amsterdam. A woman from the Dutch Foundation for Literature was there to greet me and show me around the apartment I was to occupy for the next month. I’d come to Amsterdam to write a book about the cold case investigation into who betrayed Anne Frank and the other residents in the secret annex on August 4, 1944, a mystery that had never been solved.

So begins Rosemary Sullivan’s account on who betrayed Anne Frank.

Yes, her name was Anne Frank. Everybody knows that name and the book associated with her name, the Diary of Anne Frank. She lived on this earth about seven decades ago, but she is still making waves in the world we live in. That points us to who she is actually. She is not a celebrity. She is a legacy. That much is a fact.

A team led by Vincent Pankoke, a retired FBI agent, took pains to go through thousands of pages and interviewed quite a few descendants associated with the Frank family to find out what remained a mystery for almost a century. Who betrayed Anne Frank’s family?

Captives and their captors

The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation by Rosemary Sullivan unfolds the specifics of this mission. In Sullivan’s narrative, we get to meet the investigators. They go into detail about the behaviour of both the captives and their captors.

Millions and millions have read Anne Frank’s diary. She did not enjoy the luxuries that her modern counterparts have. Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg have social media as a powerful tool to convey their message. All that Anne Frank got was Kitty to whom she poured all her grief. She kept her diary in an attic while her family attempt to stay below the radar. They managed to stay away from Hitler’s wrath for two years until they were finally betrayed.

We reach out for Anne’s Diary with trembling hands. Our hearts tremble, not with the fear that engulfed the thousands of families that included the Franks, but with a disturbing emotion that we live on the earth that witnessed such a horrendous act.

Anne Frank’s Diary has been in the public domain. And for most of us who endured (rather than enjoying) her entries, one by one, had a natural question: how did her family get betrayed? That question has been a mystery that is now solved by Pankoke’s team. The betrayer is a Jew himself, who is a wealthy Amsterdam businessman named Arnold van den Bergh.

Survivors, victims and perpetrators

We continue to hear tales and news related to Holocaust. Of survivors, victims and perpetrators. The most recent is what we hear of the one who has betrayed the Frank family. But do we feel any grudge against him? Time has wiped away such feelings. He is a Jew himself, for one. On the other hand, that period is dead and gone. He betrayed our beloved girl. But what circumstances must he have faced as a Jew himself? He must have been under the barrel. He must have had a family of his own too to think about before having second thoughts about the betrayal.

Having read Frank’s book himself at school and been moved by it, Pankoke agreed to take on the case, which Bayens and van Twisk documented.

Vincent Pankoke is among the millions who endured Anne Frank’s diary entries. Rosemary Sullivan and Pankoke struck a book deal, while the latter initiated a hunt. Pankoke was a truly obsessed FBI agent when he gathered a team of 23 stalwarts. The team comprised criminologists, forensic scientists, psychologists, handwriting experts, archival researchers and a rabbi. But the investigation was not a piece of cake. They were investigating a decade-old incident.

That aspect had to leave out many witnesses as they may no longer be alive.

Pankoke’s team had to bank on modern technology, especially artificial intelligence, to explore and scan the decade-old documents. Nazis must be commendable and thanked for one thing. They had this bizarre habit of recording every minute detail. That came in handy for Pankoke’s team.

Yet, not in the fullest sense. Some files were missing. Some were scattered here and there. Some reports were not to be found. The tougher the investigation turned out to be, the better was the team’s motivation. They formulated a database of everyone who lived in Amsterdam. The artificial intelligence scanned every document including photos, books and maps. The documentation, despite its scant nature, offered an interesting perspective.


The Nazi administration offered their arrests a chance. Betray a fellow Jew, and you are free – that was chance given to Jew arrests. The Jew arrests had a clear picture of the gas chamber destiny. As a result, the Nazis could obtain information on the whereabouts of 25,000 Jews in hiding.

Arnold van den Bergh was among the betrayers.

But Vincent Pankoke is not in a hurry to point finger at him.

“We have to keep in mind that the fact that van den Bergh was Jewish just meant that he was placed into an untenable position by the Nazis to do something to save his life,” Pankoke tells the Press.

Bitter truth

The discovery is quite important as we will be celebrating International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. It commemorates the genocide that resulted in the death of an estimated six million Jewish people, five million Slavs, three million ethnic Poles, 200,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.

It was designated by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7 on November 1, 2005, during the 42nd plenary session. The resolution came after a special session was held earlier that year during which the United Nations General Assembly marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust.

In her ‘The War Against the Jews: 1933–1945’ Lucy Schildkret Dawidowicz elaborates how the Holocaust came to be. The term holocaust comes from the Greek term holókaustos: hólos, ‘whole’ and kaustós, ‘burnt offering’.

If you are to make a determination to complete all the films made and books authored on the Holocaust, it is close to impractical. Perhaps you will be able to complete the films. But the books, it would take more than one lifetime. That episode was a trendsetter and continues to make trends even better today.

The books are mostly written by the survivors.

Verisimilitude, the quality of seeming to be true or real, has been the implied question that emerged in the literature.

In Image and Remembrance: Representation and the Holocaust, Ochayon, Sheryl Silver notes his dilemma:

“Can this horrible experience be converted into an aesthetic experience? Will the readers who turn to books to escape physical reality be ready to grapple with the horrible traits embedded?”

Elie Wiesel is one of the leading critics who question the verisimilitude of Holocaust literature.

“Then, [Auschwitz] defeated culture; later, it defeated art,” he wrote. “The truth of Auschwitz remains hidden in its ashes.”

Theodore Adorno makes reference to poetry written in the aftermath of Auschwitz. He considers it barbaric. He has often criticised the creative work linked with the event that shuddered the world.

On many occasions, the survivors of the Nazi concentration camps have come to notice how little use words are in describing their experiences. In all their accounts, verbal or written, you find expressions such as ‘indescribable’, ‘inexpressible’, ‘words are not enough’ and ‘one would need a language for’ galore. True enough, creativity is the sole cathartic medium to express any experience, however, terrified it may be. When it comes to Holocaust, a whole new language seems to have been born.

Holocaust literature encompasses various genres. A major portion of the genres is authored by the victims and survivors. That includes posthumously published works as well. Then there are other texts which are translated into English. Interestingly there are fake survivor accounts as well. Naturally, there are books authored by people based on victims and survivors.

What is authored through the voices of victims lay importance on personal writing as a means of understanding the Holocaust. They appear in various forms: diaries, stories and poems and serve to humanise the vast number of Holocaust victims by introducing readers to individuals with understandable dreams, passions and agonies.

The heartbreaking narratives of Holocaust survivors endorse that unbeatable determination to live, survive and preserve the remains of human dignity in the face of a dreadful misfortune. These biographies and memoirs breathe life into historical events. They add facts into an overpowering granary.

The sole wish of the world shall be to see no heir apparent to this unwelcome legacy. Such evil must never be allowed to happen again. The presence of the Holocaust in literature even in half a century means the shuddered legacy is still alive with us every day, everywhere and the connection between it and the world is infinite.