Hi-tech probe into Anne Frank be­trayal

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FOR nearly 75 years, some of the great­est in­ves­tiga­tive minds have tried to fig­ure out who tipped off the Nazis about Anne Frank and the seven other Jews who were hid­ing be­hind a mov­able book­case in Am­s­ter­dam.

Now a for­mer FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tor work­ing with a pro­duc­tion com­pany hopes the decades-old mys­tery can be solved with the help of a new mind – an ar­ti­fi­cial one.

Vince Pankoke, who spent a chunk of his FBI ca­reer in­ves­ti­gat­ing Colom­bian drug car­tels, has as­sem­bled 20 re­searchers, data an­a­lysts and his­to­ri­ans to look into what he calls “one of the big­gest cold cases” of the 20th cen­tury.

The most un­con­ven­tional mem­ber of his team is a piece of spe­cialised soft­ware that can cross-ref­er­ence mil­lions of doc­u­ments – po­lice re­ports, lists of Nazi spies, in­ves­tiga­tive files for Frank fam­ily sym­pa­this­ers – to find con­nec­tions and new leads.

Prodi­tione Me­dia, a pro­duc­tion com­pany in the Nether­lands, is so­lic­it­ing do­na­tions to help fund Pankoke’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which will be­come the sub­ject of a pod­cast – and pos­si­bly a doc­u­men­tary.

The com­pany that asked Pankoke to lead the in­ves­ti­ga­tion has also asked peo­ple to sub­mit doc­u­ments on its web­site. Al­ready the in­ves­ti­ga­tion has gen­er­ated new in­ter­est – and new in­for­ma­tion – Pankoke, 59, says.

“The bot­tom line is un­til this day there is noth­ing that’s re­ally held water or been de­fin­i­tive. The point of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is factfind­ing just to dis­cover the truth. There is no statute of lim­i­ta­tions on the truth,” he said.

Anne Frank’s fam­ily spent more than two years in the se­cret an­nexe at the back of her fa­ther’s store. They were dis­cov­ered on a sum­mer day in 1944 and sent to con­cen­tra­tion camps. Be­fore World War II was over, seven of the eight hiders were dead, in­clud­ing Anne, who died of ty­phus at age 15 at Ber­gen-Belsen camp in Ger­many.

Her fa­ther Otto – the only per­son who hid be­hind the book­case and sur­vived – spent his life try­ing to fig­ure out who tipped off the Nazis. He also pub­lished his daugh­ter’s di­ary, which chron­i­cled the rise of anti-Semitism in the Nether­lands and has be­come re­quired read­ing for stu­dents across the world.

He long sus­pected his fam­ily was turned in by Willem van Maaren, a re­cently hired em­ployee who was not in on the se­cret be­hind the book­case. Van Maaren was sus­pi­cious and would set “traps” to dis­cover any­one in the of­fice af­ter hours.

In 1963, Otto Frank told a Dutch news­pa­per: “We sus­pected him all along.”

Through the decades, oth­ers have been iden­ti­fied as po­ten­tial be­tray­ers, in­clud­ing a promi­nent Dutch Nazi by the name of Tonny Ah­lers, and the wife of an em­ployee who helped the Frank fam­ily hide.

The be­trayer shouldn’t have been hard to de­ter­mine – the Nazis kept metic­u­lous records – but the de­tails sur­round­ing the home in Am­s­ter­dam are be­lieved to have been de­stroyed in a 1946 bomb­ing, mak­ing an easy iden­ti­fi­ca­tion im­pos­si­ble.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions in 1947 and 1963 turned up noth­ing, and the iden­tity of the Frank fam­ily’s be­trayer ap­peared lost to his­tory.

But there are still reams of doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing some that have been shipped to the US and trans­ferred to mi­cro­film. That in­for­ma­tion could be key to find­ing out how the Nazis learned about the Franks.

Anne Frank’s Am­s­ter­dam was a maze of dan­ger for the eight hid­ing Jews. The an­nexe where they lived could be seen eas­ily from sev­eral nearby homes. A cur­tain ac­ci­den­tally left open or a loud noise at the wrong time could lead to dis­cov­ery. They re­lied on coun­ter­feit food-ra­tion coupons to stay alive, op­er­a­tions that in­volved sym­pa­thetic col­lab­o­ra­tors and were heav­ily scru­ti­nised by po­lice. Dutch of­fi­cers were paid for every Jew they turned over to the Nazis, Pankoke said. They leaned heav­ily and some­times vi­o­lently on peo­ple sus­pected of help­ing Jews avoid the Nazis.

The hiders’ col­lab­o­ra­tors had fam­ily mem­bers who could have tipped off po­lice. Anne Frank chron­i­cled mo­ments when the peo­ple in the an­nexe made mis­takes that could have been seen by neigh­bours. Pankoke be­lieves all the in­ves­tiga­tive av­enues have not been ex­plored. He es­ti­mates it would take a hu­man be­ing a decade to go through all the doc­u­ments and parse out pos­si­ble con­nec­tions. A com­puter de­signed by the big-data com­pany Xom­nia could process the same in­for­ma­tion in sec­onds. “There is, of course, all pos­si­ble types of ad­min­is­tra­tion done by the Ger­mans of the time,” Thijs Baynes, the film-maker be­hind the project, says. “And there is an even big­ger cir­cle of cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence. What Dutch Nazi party mem­bers were in the neigh­bour­hood? What con­nec­tions were there with the Gestapo? Where were Gestapo agents liv­ing?

Pankoke is work­ing to ac­quire more of those doc­u­ments. He’s spent the past few months squint­ing at mi­cro­film in Am­s­ter­dam and at a Na­tional Archives fa­cil­ity out­side Wash­ing­ton, try­ing to find rel­e­vant data. He’s also be­come an ex­pert on pre­vi­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tions that sought Anne Frank’s be­trayer.

Pankoke started work­ing for the FBI in the 1980s, spend­ing his first four years as an agent in a small field of­fice in Wis­con­sin. In 1992, he was trans­ferred to Mi­ami, where he helped build cases against Colom­bian car­tels. Af­ter the 9/11 at­tacks, he was in­volved in FBI un­der­cover op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing cases that took him out of the coun­try.

He re­tired two years ago. But that did not last long. “Un­for­tu­nately, my wife is look­ing at me and say­ing: ‘I thought we were go­ing to be re­tired and tak­ing cruises’,” he said, not­ing his probe could last into 2019.

Pankoke has al­ways had a keen in­ter­est in World War II. His fa­ther and three un­cles all served. While in the FBI, he re­mem­bers driv­ing by the Anne Frank House and mar­vel­ling that no one had fig­ured out who be­trayed her fam­ily. He said a small part of him re­alises there may be no smok­ing gun. The key piece of data could have been de­stroyed. Or there may be heft to a re­cent re­port that says there was no be­trayer at all, and that Anne Frank’s dis­cov­ery was an un­for­tu­nate co­in­ci­dence. That the­ory was posited in a re­search pa­per put out by the Anne Frank House.

Pub­lished late last year, the pa­per sug­gested three men Otto Frank later iden­ti­fied as in­ves­ti­ga­tors weren’t look­ing for en­e­mies of Nazis, but were prob­a­bly as­signed to track down peo­ple com­mit­ting ra­tion card fraud or those dodg­ing mil­i­tary ser­vice.

The mu­seum’s re­search is backed up by other his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments, along with words writ­ten in Anne Frank’s own hand: She talked about the ar­rest of men who had been caught deal­ing in il­le­gal ra­tion cards “so we have no coupons”. Such ar­rests were of­ten re­ported to the au­thor­i­ties, who reg­u­larly came across hid­ing Jews as they tried to sniff out peo­ple with phony ra­tion cards.

In a state­ment this week, the Anne Frank House said it was keep­ing an open mind about Pankoke’s re­search and has co-op­er­ated with his team.

“The back­ground to and the ex­act de­tails of the ar­rest of Anne Frank are is­sues that many peo­ple still find very com­pelling. We want to tell the life story of Anne Frank as com­pletely as pos­si­ble, so it is also im­por­tant to take a close look at the raid that brought an end to the pe­riod in hid­ing.”

It added: “De­spite decades of re­search, be­trayal as a point of depar­ture has de­liv­ered noth­ing con­clu­sive. We are pleased that ‘Cold Case Di­ary’ is also car­ry­ing out re­search into the ar­rest and fol­low­ing new leads, and we are in­ter­ested to see the re­sults.”

Pankoke told The Post his in­ves­ti­ga­tors have al­ready made some dis­cov­er­ies. – Wash­ing­ton Post

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