Thu, Aug 05, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Who ratted on Anne Frank remains a mystery

AGENCIES

Pictures of Anne Frank as a baby and as a young girl.

PHOTOS: AFP

August 1944 Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl whose journal of her life in hiding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam made her a world-wide symbol for the Holocaust, was betrayed. Now, 60 years on, the question of who reported the Frank family to the Nazis remains unanswered.

Between 1942 and 1944 Anne Frank, her parents, older sister Margot and four other people hid in a small annex behind her father's office in the center of Amsterdam. In the cramped space Anne wrote of her daily life in hiding and her teenage fears and hopes.

On August 4, 1944, after somebody reported their presence to the Nazis, Anne and the others were deported. She died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945, aged 15, shortly before the camp was liberated by the Allies at the war's end.

After the war, only Anne's father Otto returned from the camps. He got Anne's diary from a Dutch woman who helped the Frank family in hiding and published it. In 1952, when it was first published in English, the diary touched a nerve in the US and Anne came to symbolize the horrors of the Holocaust to people all over the world.

Over the years several theories have surfaced about who betrayed the Frank family and why.

"It is perfectly natural. If you see what happened to Anne Frank, you want to catch the culprit. People are angry and they want to know," Hans Westra, director of the Anne Frank Foundation in Amsterdam, said.

On Aug. 4, 1944, SS official Karl Joseph Silberbauer and three Dutch collaborators came to the Prinsengracht 263, where the Frank family was in hiding. The police arrived and demanded to be taken to the Jews in hiding and were taken straight to the annex, Silberbauer told investigators after the war. He could, however, not say who denounced the Frank family to the Nazis.

Over the years, three main suspects for the betrayal of Anne Frank emerged: Wim van Maaren, an employee of Otto Frank-Lena Hartog-Van Bladeren, a cleaning lady in the office and Anthon "Tonny" Ahlers, a committed Nazi who was also a petty thief who blackmailed Otto Frank.

Two years ago English researcher Carol Anne Lee, who wrote a biography of Otto Frank, pointed to Ahlers as the culprit. This former business associate of Otto was a well-known anti-Semite who needed money and protection from the Nazis, she argued.

Austrian writer Melissa Muller said Hartog-Van Bladeren betrayed the family because she feared she could be deported together with her husband for aiding the Frank family if they were discovered.

For many years Van Maaren was the main suspect but two post-war police investigations turned up nothing and he always professed his innocence.

After extensive research last year, historians of the Dutch War Documentation Institute concluded that we will probably never know who betrayed Anne Frank.

"The conclusion of our inquiry is that we do not consider any of the three suspects to be a likely candidate for the role of betrayer," the historians wrote.

The Germans burned their archives when they pulled out of Amsterdam and there is little chance today of finding evidence to substantiate any of the claims.

"Going into hiding with seven others in the center of Amsterdam, a situation where you even have to be afraid of the warehouse assistant in your old business and do not know what your neighbors are thinking and doing, greatly reduces your chances of survival. The annex could and still can be seen, by at least a hundred residents [in the area]," the historians explained.

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