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The woman who betrayed Anne Frank

· Details emerge in the unresolved mystery ·

The question of who betrayed Anne Frank – who sent the Gestapo on 4 August 1944 to arrest the eight Jews hidden behind a bookcase in a house on Prinsengracht 263, Amsterdam – continues to move the public and the media. Now a recently published book in the Netherlands accuses Nelly Voskujil of doing just that. Nelly was the sister of Elizabeth (“Bep” in Anne's diary) who was one of the four “angels” – two men and two women – who hid Ann and the other Jews for two years.

Interestingly enough, one of the authors of the book is Bep's son, Joop Van Wijk, and the nephew of the alleged informer. Van Wijk co-authored Silence No More with the journalist Jeroen de Bruyn; he boldly admits that his aunt was the one who revealed the Franks' whereabouts. The book does not, however, offer hard evidence for this claim, rather it cites lost correspondence and family relationships. It appears that Nelly Voskujil, who worked for Otto Frank, started helping the Gestapo after the occupation. During this time, she learned of the aid her sister was providing to the Frank family.

The Netherlands was one of the countries hardest hit in the Western world by Nazi persecution of the Jews. When the Nazis began occupying the country in 1940, there were 140,000 Jews. Over 107,000 were deported and only 5,000 returned. These numbers are much higher than those in France or Belgium, which suffered greatly. The number does, however, come close to Poland, where the Jews were almost completely exterminated. Twenty thousand of these Dutch Jews were refugees from Germany, who had escaped the country when Hitler rose to power in 1933. Among these was the Frank family. Before Germany trampled on it's neutrality and occupied it for five years, the Netherlands seemed to be a safe refuge for Jews, who were accepted and integrated into society.

So what happened during the occupation which resulted in such a high number of fatalities? And what attitude did the Dutch take towards the Nazi occupation of their country and the deportation of their Jews? The answer lies in the history of the Nazi occupation of Europe: the non-Jewish attitude towards anti-Semite persecution, the resistance – whether armed or not – to Nazism, were determining factors in whether or not the Nazi's plan for deportation succeeded. At the beginning of the occupation, the Dutch Jews were subjected to increasing restrictions and discrimination. In September 1941 all Jews in the Netherlands were registered and their identity cards were marked. Just as Italian Jews were registered during the Fascist dictatorship in 1938, this registration was the primary tool for subsequently detecting and deporting Jews. In May 1942 they were forced to wear a yellow star and that July the deportation began. In 1943 there were 30,000 Jews, who were hiding with the help of non-Jews, left in the Netherlands; and one-third of those were also eventually deported thanks to whistleblowers who received a large sum in return.

In July 1942, after Anna's sister, Margot, received a letter of deportation, the Frank family decided to go into hiding. Not much is known for certain of the following events, however it is clear that the Franks were Germans hiding from the Nazis. Their story is well-known: they lived in a secret shelter, behind a door to the offices of Otto Frank, covered by a moveable bookcase, which now stands in a museum, visited by numerous people all over the world every year.

If the Gestapo had not been alerted of their location, if the spy had betrayed them then it is quite probable that the Frank family would have survived the 10 remaining months of the war. Or they would have managed to stay hidden for those few remaining months, from August to November, when the deportations were halted.

Anna Foa

PRINTED EDITION

 

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May 23, 2019

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