Friday, July 5, 2002
ARTS & CULTURE
Who really turned Anne Frank over to the Nazis?
Dutch historians investigate new claims to identity of person who revealed hiding place of Jewish family
by Andrew Osborn
IT was an anonymous phone call in the hot summer of 1944 which led the Gestapo and Dutch security police to the concealed annexe in a canalside house where Anne Frank and her family had hidden for almost two years. For almost 60 years, the identity of that informant, whose call had such tragic consequences, has remained a mystery to historians and the most dogged Nazi hunters.
But Dutch government historians disclosed yesterday that two new theories about who betrayed 15-year-old Jewish schoolgirl Anne Frank to the Nazis in occupied Amsterdam are so compelling that they are reopening their investigations.
During the next six months a team of experts from the Netherlands' Institute for War Documentation (NIWD) will pore over government records drawn up at the end of the war which detail the extent of Dutch collaboration with the Nazis. They will also scrutinise the letters of Anne's father, Otto, for clues and examine police transcripts of interviews dating back to the 1940s. Not even the arresting officer questioned after the war by Simon Wiesenthal, the Austrian Nazi hunter, could say who the caller was and investigators are convinced that no written record of the caller's identity exists.
Almost everyone involved with the case is dead and many historians believe that it is simply impossible to identify the culprit who betrayed the young girl whose poignant diary subsequently sold more than 31 million copies and made her one of the Holocaust's most famous victims.
This is not the first time that hopes of unlocking the mystery have been raised. For decades suspicion centred on a man called Willem Van Maaren, who worked in the warehouse attached to the Franks' hiding place. But two police investigations - one immediately after the war and another in the 1960s - turned up nothing and Van Maaren died in 1971 professing his innocence.
However, the two new theories, painstakingly researched by a British and an Austrian author, and presented in separate books, have raised hopes once again and the NIWD is about to discover whether either of the scenarios stands up to close scrutiny.
The first theory, forwarded by British author and Anne Frank expert Carol Anne Lee, in her book The Hidden Life of Otto Frank, seems to have aroused the most interest. The book, released in English yesterday, points the finger of blame at a man called Anton Ahlers, a business associate of Otto's and a committed Nazi.
It claims that Ahlers - then a 26-year- old petty thief - had fallen on hard times by 1944 and desperately needed the bounty paid to Dutch civilians who exposed Jews in their midst. Ahlers was a member of the Dutch Nazi NSB movement, appeared in Nazi propaganda films and was thrown out of his lodgings after his landlady discovered a swastika flag on the wall and a uniform bearing SS insignia hanging in his wardrobe.
It has been proven beyond doubt, says Ms Lee, that Ahlers knew where the Franks were hiding and even his own family believe that he is the traitor.
"His own mother said he had a bad character from birth and that he was always parading his Nazi connections," the author told the Guardian yesterday.
"He was a Dutch Nazi, a well-known traitor and an anti-semite and was very anti-Jewish. He needed the money and he needed the authorities' protection because his own business had gone bankrupt. I think he is the one who gave away the Franks' whereabouts to the caller although I don't think he physically made the call himself."
That, Ms Lee suggests, is more likely to have been a man called Maarten Kuiper, who made a living from the betrayal of Jews and who moved into Ahlers' flat with him the day before the raid.
Ms Lee also claims that Ahlers was blackmailing Otto, first in 1941 by threatening to release a letter which would have led to his deportation, and astonishingly after the war too and even as recently as 1980 when Otto died.
Ahlers had discovered, says Lee, that Otto's herb and food preservative business had supplied the Wehrmacht throughout the war and that, she suggests, would have been enough to see Otto branded a collaborator.
Ahlers himself was jailed for collaboration after the war and bizarrely Otto wrote letters to the authorities pleading for his release.
The second theory, put forward by Austrian writer Melissa Müller, has a cleaning lady in the warehouse, Lena Hartog, as the traitor. Lena had already lost her son in the war, the theory goes, and her husband worked for Otto's food preservatives firm. Her motive for betrayal, according to Müller, was that she did not want to lose her husband too and he would have been deported for aiding the Franks if they were discovered, which she believed was only a matter of time.
Both theories are being given equal weight by David Barnouw, the historian charged with establishing the truth. "There's no smoking gun but we are going to make a comparison of the two theories and see what we can rule out and in. I take both of these theories seriously enough to put them on paper but that is different from actually saying what happened."
Ms Lee is also cautious but believes the secret of who shopped Anne Frank is there to be unearthed. "The NIWD has never tried to find out who betrayed the Franks but they have contacts which I don't have and know how archives in the Netherlands work. This is highly significant and even if they don't find who the traitor was, the scope to find out exactly what did happen is enormous."
The Diary of Anne Frank, first published in English in 1952 as The Diary of a Young Girl, is one of the most widely read books in the world.
It has been translated into around 67 languages and has sold over 31 million copies.
The diary was given to Anne on her 13th birthday, just weeks before she and her family went into hiding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. The house where she and her family hid in a sealed-off room at Prinsengracht 263 in central Amsterdam was turned into a museum in 1960 and receives almost a million visits a year, mainly from the US.
In the immediate aftermath of the war Otto, Anne's father, had trouble finding a publisher for the diary and was told that nobody wanted to read about the Holocaust.
A Dutch newspaper, Het Parool, printed a story about Anne's diary which aroused the interest of a publishing house. In June 1947 1,500 copies of the Dutch edition of the diary were produced. Within several years the book had been translated into German, French and English, and was made into a film in 1959.
In April 1944 Anne wrote: "One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we will be people again and not just Jews!
"We can never be just Dutch, or just English, or whatever, we will always be Jews as well. But then we'll want to be."
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