Report on Anne Frank’s capture sparks frustration among experts
Following release of study suggesting Holocaust diarist and her family were not betrayed, Anne Frank House responds to criticism of its ‘obvious mistakes’
Exactly how the Holocaust’s most famous victim came to be captured by the Nazis has intrigued the public for decades. A new study produced by the Anne Frank House is providing the latest set of theories to embroil researchers yet again.
Released earlier this month, the report examines events and people surrounding the arrest of Anne Frank, her family and four other Jews who hid in the backrooms of an Amsterdam office building belonging to the company of Anne’s father, Otto Frank. Unlike most prior studies, the new report focuses on possibilities other than the traditionally accepted “betrayal phone call” narrative, wherein someone who knew of the Jews in hiding reported them to authorities.
Calling the betrayal “an assumption that simmers on,” the Anne Frank House’s chief researcher, Gertjan Broek, told The Times of Israel the topic of the arrest is “one of the most frequently asked questions.”
To prepare their report, Broek and his team spent two years looking into details tied to the Nazis’ August 4, 1944, raid on the Secret Annex. According to Broek, there is no hard evidence behind a phone call having taken place, and it is just as likely that authorities descended on the office to investigate illegal workers, forged ration coupons, or other suspicious business practices.
In other words, Anne Frank and her family were not necessarily “betrayed,” but could have been the victims of happenstance in a Nazi-occupied city brimming with resistance activities. In Amsterdam, “everything was a risk, everything. [People could not] evade taking chances or risks,” said Broek.
However, the focus on possibilities other than a betrayal has irked some researchers, including Germany-based Melissa Müller, author of an acclaimed biography on Anne Frank published in 1998. According to Müller, the Anne Frank House’s new study is short on new facts and makes “obvious mistakes,” she said.
“This theory is not new at all, and there are not enough reliable sources to switch over to these ‘new’ explanations for the raid on the Prinsengracht,” said Müller. The Prinsengracht is a winding Amsterdam canal along which Frank’s office building resided, adjacent to a neighborhood — the Jordaan — filled with black market and resistance activity during 1944.
According to Müller and researcher Gerlof Langerijs, with whom she partnered to answer The Times of Israel’s questions, mistakes and “a lack of proof” in the Anne Frank House’s report have damaged its credibility.
“The reactions in the Netherlands are very negative,” said Müller. “[Broek] does not have any proof and is just causing confusion,” she said.
For instance, Müller took issue with Broek’s claim that the two-hour raid on the canal building was significantly longer than a normal Nazi arrest of Jews in hiding. According to Müller, two hours for such a raid was “not long at all, measured in 1944 circumstances and slower life speed,” said the author.
Müller also disagreed with the report’s claim that a lack of working telephone lines in Amsterdam during early August 1944 would have made a betrayal phone call unlikely. In Müller’s opinion, this is an example of researchers boosting a theory with questionable assumptions.
Müller does, however, agree with Broek that the betrayal phone call is something of a red herring, or, as she put it, “a mystification, and a typical example of how a story is passed on from one person to the next,” said Müller.
Another point of contention for Müller and Langerijs is the study’s assessment of workers in the warehouse below the Secret Annex, as well as travelling sales representatives who regularly visited the building. That some of these men and women were under the gaze of authorities for illegal activities has been known for decades, said Müller, yet there is still no evidence connecting one of them to the raid.
“Saying that there was ‘messing around with ration cards and illegal workers’ [as the study] suggests much, but proves nothing,” said Müller.
According to Broek and others at the Anne Frank House, the new research “doesn’t make claims that can’t be substantiated,” and possibilities such as the arrest being tied to something other than a phone call about Jews in hiding should be considered.
“Despite decades of research, betrayal as a point of departure has delivered nothing conclusive,” said Annemarie Bekker, spokesperson for the Anne Frank House, one of the Netherlands’ top tourist attractions.
“Our new investigation does not refute the possibility that the people in hiding were betrayed, but illustrates that other scenarios should also be considered,” Bekker told The Times of Israel. “Hopefully more researchers will see reason to follow up on new leads,” she said.
The ultimate ‘cold case’
For several decades, according to biographer Melissa Müller, the Anne Frank House “thought it was not their task to do any deeper research on the story by themselves, although they had some fine researchers on their staff,” she said.
“Back then the suggestions to take a deeper look into certain subjects were constantly put off the table,” said Müller. “To go public with this kind of research is new to them,” she said, referring to the report released this month about the fateful raid on Otto Frank’s office building.
In 2002, researchers including Müller’s colleague, Gerlof Langerijs, presented the Anne Frank House with a flowchart of possible “external factors,” or leads, which the Nazis might have been pursuing when they decided upon a raid, said Müller.
That it took the Anne Frank House 14 years to pursue these leads is “remarkable,” said Müller, who published an updated and expanded edition of her Anne Frank biography in 2013.
“In the past there were more and more urgent moments to point out this possibility,” said Müller.
“Many people think it is not much more than a publicity attempt,” said Müller of the study. “Just another theory after many theories have already been published — lacking convincing facts. In their letters to the editor, people complain about the study’s conclusion [being] based on ‘coincidences,’” she said.
According to Broek, he and Müller have met several times to discuss “every detail of Anne Frank’s life, and [the arrest] is always a part of the conversation,” he said. Broek emailed Müller a series of questions related to his study one year ago, to which the author responded, he said.
“I have not heard of any confusion inside of the Netherlands or outside of it,” said Broek about Müller’s claim the study is causing confusion.
Among other researchers of Anne Frank and the Nazi occupation in Amsterdam, there is general admiration for the arrest study. However, there is also frustration about an ongoing lack of closure.
“I still have the same opinion as I had before the publication of the new study of the Anne Frank House,” said Ad van Liempt, an expert on the deportation of Jews from the Netherlands during WWII and author of the book, “Hitler’s Bounty Hunters.”
Calling the study “well done and very interesting,” van Liempt added, “it is disappointing that there is no concrete conclusion. We cannot blame Mr. Broek and his research team. They did a good job, offered us a new view but couldn’t prove it. That is what, unfortunately, often happens in history research,” said van Liempt, who provided feedback to the Anne Frank House during the report’s creation, according to Broek.
“We know about thousands of Jews in the Netherlands, whether they were betrayed or not,” van Liempt told The Times of Israel. “But we don’t know about the most famous family of all, and sure, this bothers. I am still very curious, but I am afraid that I will never know what happened in this case,” said van Liempt.
Researchers close to Anne Frank’s story have expressed similar frustration, along with concerns that future research be directed toward appropriate ends.
“I cannot imagine that this new theory of happenstance rather than betrayal would have made one iota of difference to Miep Gies and the rest of the helpers, much less to Anne and the other six people in hiding who were murdered,” said journalist Steve North, referring to the Dutch woman who took care of the Jews in hiding and rescued Frank’s diary after the arrest.
North was the last journalist to interview Miep Gies before her death in 2010. He told The Times of Israel that Gies — were she still living — “might question why a new vague and ambiguous ‘research study’ was necessary at this particular time,” said North, whose 1998 interview with Gies took place in her Amsterdam apartment, where some of the Frank family’s furniture remained after the war.
‘I can only hope that this study was motivated by the search for an historical truth, and not by a need to keep the rewarding business of Anne Frank well-marketed’
“I can only hope that this study was motivated by the search for an historical truth, and not by a need to keep the rewarding business of Anne Frank well-marketed and flourishing,” said North.
Another writer who interviewed Gies is Alison Leslie Gold, author of the 1987 book, “Anne Frank Remembered,” in which Gold partnered with Gies to tell Frank’s story from the perspective of the woman who hid and cared for eight Jews in the Secret Annex and — rarely mentioned — an “underground” Dutch student who hid in her and husband Jan Gies’ apartment.
“I hesitate to weigh in,” said biographer Gold, “since analyzing the arrests from this ‘new’ angle — though it might shut some doors — also opens new doors, presents new implications, poses new questions,” Gold told The Times of Israel.
“It seems as if many more dots need to be connected before we reconfigure the tragedy that ended or blighted the lives of so many,” said Gold.