On August 4, 1944, the young diarist Anne Frank, along with her father, Otto, mother, Edith, and sister, Margot, were discovered after hiding for two years in a concealed annex above a canal-side warehouse in Amsterdam.
This past weekend, the cold case of the betrayal of the Franks was reopened, with retired FBI agent Vince Pankoke and his team of 19 forensic experts set to use “new techniques to analyse large amounts of data to solve mystery of diarist’s capture,” reports The Guardian.
It’s not the first time the case has been looked into:
When Otto Frank returned from Auschwitz after it was liberated by the Russians in 1945, he discovered that his entire family, along with those who had been hiding with them – Hermann and Auguste van Pels, their son, Peter, and a dentist, Fritz Pfeffer – had perished in camps in Germany and German-occupied Poland.
Immediately after the war, Otto Frank strongly suspected one of the warehouse workers, Wilhelm van Maaren, of betraying the group’s hiding place. Two investigations by the Dutch police, conducted in 1948 and 1963, did not find any compelling evidence against Van Maaren, however, and the police were later criticised for overly focusing on the one suspect.
Pankoke still bets that someone betrayed the hiding place of the Franks to the Gestapo, and will be crunching big data to uncover leads:
“They weren’t really investigations. I am working through the files and there are so many questions unanswered.
“The amount of data is overwhelming. It is at least 20 to 25km of files at this moment and we have just started. To try and make all this data relevant is quite complex, so we started to work on artificial intelligence algorithms to rule the data, as they say.”
Recruited for the crowdfunded project by the filmmaker Thijs Bayens and Dutch journalist Pieter Van Twisk through contacts in the Dutch police, Pankoke said on the matter:
“We are not trying to point fingers or prosecute. I am just trying to solve the last case of my career. There is no statute of limitation on the truth.”
Last December, the Anne Frank House museum published its own study suggesting that “the Franks may have been uncovered by chance instead of being betrayed, though the researchers ultimately judged there to be no conclusive evidence”.
Speaking on the project, executive director of the Anne Frank House, Ronald Leopold – who has made available its archives and welcomed the initiative – said:
“Despite decades of research, betrayal as a point of departure has delivered nothing conclusive. We are interested to see the results [of the review].”
As the investigators, including historians, psychological profilers and former police detectives, work through the evidence, Pankoke claims to have already “discovered in his preparatory work fresh insights from recently declassified documents shipped back to the US after the war”:
The German security services, known as the Sicherheitsdienst, kept meticulous records of arrests but it had been believed that all the documents pertaining to the Franks’ case were destroyed in a British bombing raid in 1944.
“But I’ve spent a lot of time of the United States National Archives and found documents there from Amsterdam that I was told didn’t exist,” Pankoke, 59, said. “Some of them are water damaged or fire damaged, and they are in technical military German, so it’s going to take a while. But we have found lists of names of Jews arrested having being betrayed, lists of informants and names of Gestapo agents who lived in Amsterdam. All that can go into the data store, and we can find connections.”
The project has given itself less than a year, and hopes to unveil its findings on the 75th anniversary of the arrest of the Frank family.
An answer once and for all?
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