New York Times: Dutch Publisher of ‘The Betrayal of Anne Frank’ Halts Publication

By Nina Siegel

A Dutch publisher has said that it will cease publication of a best-selling book, “The Betrayal of Anne Frank,” and remove it from bookstores, in response to a report by historians that objects to its finding.

The book had claimed to identify the informant who alerted Nazi police to the Frank family’s hiding place, but the report’s authors said the conclusions were based on “faulty assumptions” and “careless use of sources.”

The publisher, Ambo Anthos, which released the Dutch translation of the book by Rosemary Sullivan, a Canadian author, on Jan. 17, said on Tuesday that it would halt publication in response to the “refutation” by five prominent Dutch historians.

“Based on the conclusions of this report, we have decided that, effective immediately, the book will no longer be available,” Ambo Anthos, which had apologized for the book last month, wrote in a statement on its website. “We will call upon bookstores to return their stock.”

“The Betrayal of Anne Frank” received worldwide attention after its release, bolstered by an appearance on the CBS News program “60 Minutes” of the self-described “cold case team” led by a retired F.B.I. investigator whose work formed the basis for the book.

The team accused Arnold van den Bergh, a Dutch Jewish notary, of pointing the Nazi police to the location of the secret annex on Prinsengracht 263, in Amsterdam, where the Frank family and four other Jews had been hiding for two years. They were arrested on Aug. 4, 1944, and deported to concentration camps, where Anne, her mother and sister died; only their father, Otto Frank, survived the war.

Historians and other experts on World War II and the Holocaust very quickly expressed doubts about the finding, questioning a central premise of its argument: that the notary had lists of Jewish hiding places that were compiled by the Amsterdam Jewish Council, an organization the occupying Nazis had set up in 1941.

Pieter van Twisk, the lead researcher for the cold-case project, said in an interview with The New York Times at the time that the evidence for the lists was “circumstantial, but circumstantial evidence is still evidence.”

On Tuesday night, Bart Wallet, a professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Amsterdam, summarized the findings of the refutation, written by Raymund Schütz, an expert on Dutch notaries during the German occupation; two experts on the Amsterdam Jewish Council, Laurien Vastenhout and Bart van der Boom; and two other researchers, Petra van den Boomgaard and Aaldrik Hermans.

“We felt we had to step in because we owed it to our discipline,” Professor Wallet said. “For such a claim to be made,” he added, the historical context “had to be solid as a rock.” But he said, this was “not the case, not at all.”

“It’s clear that the argumentation doesn’t hold up,” he concluded. “Due to misinterpretation and tunnel vision, the investigation wrongly identifies Arnold van den Bergh as Anne Frank’s betrayer.”

At the event where the report was released, Mirjam de Gorter, granddaughter of Mr. van den Bergh, had made an emotional public appeal to HarperCollins, which released the book in the U.S. with plans to publish it in more than 20 languages, asking that the publisher issue a retraction and cease publication.

Ms. de Gorter said that the investigators from the team approached her in 2018 without telling her that her grandfather was a main suspect, even though, as Sullivan wrote in the book, they were already seriously considering him as the betrayer.

With the help of family members, De Gorter said she discovered that during the summer of 1944, when the Franks were betrayed, Mr. van den Bergh and his wife were in hiding in the town of Laren, at Leemkuil 11. They were seen there by a friend, Gerard Huijseen, who noted visiting them in his wartime diary. The van den Bergh’s children had already been placed in hiding in October 1943, she said.

“There was no need for my grandfather to save his family in the summer of 1944,” she said. “They were already in hiding.”

Ms. de Gorter said she had shared this information with the team, but they ignored her, she said. Instead, the book claimed that the family was living in Amsterdam, and that Mr. van den Bergh had won his freedom by giving up addresses to the Nazis.

“My grandfather, Arnold van den Bergh, has been portrayed worldwide as an international scapegoat,” she said. “Meanwhile, Anne Frank’s worldwide prominence is exploited in a particularly dishonest way.”

In February, the European Jewish Congress also called on HarperCollins to rescind the book, and to “distance itself from the book’s controversial historical claims.”

Ambo Anthos had previously paused printing and distribution of the book and apologized after historians raised the first questions about its findings. “A more critical stance could have been taken here,” wrote Tanja Hendriks, publisher and director of the company. Ms. Hendriks did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

The publisher’s website now states, “We would once again like to offer our sincere apologies to everyone who has been offended by the contents of this book.”

Mr. van Twisk, Ms. Sullivan and the documentary filmmaker Thijs Bayens, who was a member of the team that was assembled to identify Anne Frank’s betrayer, also did not respond to requests for comment. The cold-case team’s lead investigator, the former F.B.I. detective Vince Pankoke, has previously issued a defense of the work, however.

“Until now, we have not been presented with any piece of evidence or any new information that had enough strength to challenge our conclusion,” he noted before the refutation was released. “The van den Bergh scenario is, in our opinion, still the most viable theory about the betrayal of the Prinsengracht 263.”

HarperCollins, in a statement, said the company continues to stand by the publication of the book.

“While we recognize there has been some criticism to the findings,” the statement said, “the investigation was done with respect and the utmost care for an extremely sensitive topic.”


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