Sullivan, poet and award-winning author of books including “Stalin’s Daughter” and “Villa Air-Bel,” on a hideout in Marseilles during World War II, is amply qualified to put readers in perspective. She rides here in tandem with Thijs Bayens, a filmmaker, and Pieter van Twisk, a journalist and researcher whom Sullivan describes as having “the roughness of all bibliophiles.” In 2016, Bayens and van Twisk, both Dutch, hired Vince Pankoke, a retired FBI agent in Florida who “always seems to live undercover, a sweet, anonymous man in a guayabera shirt.” They assembled an international cold case team of criminologists; behavioral, data, forensic and social specialists; psychologists; a handwriting expert; a rabbi; and many others, including a young student who wondered, in one of the few lighter moments in the narrative, “What is a telephone book?” They are also eager to receive any information you may have.
The team used modern big data techniques and an artificial intelligence program developed by Microsoft, as well as old-fashioned reporting, conducting dozens of interviews and digging into private and public archives. The team has the receipts, as the young student would say – often real receipts, thanks to the diligent record keeping of the German bounty hunters. Whether in procedural or thriller form, “The Betrayal of Anne Frank” nevertheless buzzes with vivid history, human warmth and outrage. It moves the idea of “collaboration” nimbly across eight decades and nearly 400 pages, from dark and insidious crime to noble pursuit with algorithmic transparency.
Bayens and company were shocked to discover what Sullivan dryly calls “the degree of acrimony between the various stakeholders in Anne Frank’s legacy.” Its title also appears to be a snub to the Anne Frank Fund in Basel, Switzerland – one of two charities started by Otto Frank – which has long aggressively protected its share of the complicated international copyright of newspapers and would not cooperate with the cold case team; one administrator even thundered at an initial meeting that investigators could not use Anne’s name. The other, the Anne Frank Foundation in Amsterdam, which turned Prinsengracht 263 into a busy museum, was much more helpful, writes Sullivan.
Possible informants, according to various theories: a “suspiciously curious” warehouse manager, Willem van Maaren; Lena Hartog, the allegedly gossipy wife of his assistant; Job Jansen, a former employee who called Otto Frank a traitor for daring to hint during an informal sidewalk encounter that the Third Reich might lose the war; and a “sleazy character” and “arrogant opportunist” named Anton Ahlers. Still other candidates: a Jewish “V-Frau” named Ans van Dijk – “v” meaning vertrouwens, the Dutch word for trust – who denounced her fellow Jews to avoid being deported herself; and Nelly Voskuijl, who was the sister of a woman who had helped conceal the Franks, and who associated with the enemy and suffered from fainting spells.
At least one historian has suggested there was no informant – that police came to the warehouse to search for counterfeit ration cards or labor violations and came across the secret annex hidden behind a moving shelf, perhaps noticing marks it had left on the floor. Sullivan circles all of these possibilities like Agatha Christie with Zoom and a time machine. The mix of banality and terror of the town square is all too present in such details as what would happen when a moving company, headed by Abraham Puls, came to collect the deportees’ belongings; the gaping neighbors called it being gepulst (pulsed).