Today marks the 72nd anniversary of Anne Frank’s arrest.
I will not go to deep into Anne Frank’s story because so much is already written about her by people who know an awful lot about her then I do. I want to focus on that fateful day and the aftermath.
On a warm summer’s day on August 4 1944, four Gestapo policemen raided a canal warehouse at 263 Prinsengracht, Amsterdam.
The eight Jewish people hiding in the annex there were arrested: Otto Frank, his wife and two children; the van Pels family of three; and Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist. They were taken to Westerbork Kamp and from there herded into cattle wagons bound for Auschwitz. Of the eight, only Otto returned.
On the morning of 4 August 1944, following a tip from an informer who has never been identified, the Achterhuis was stormed by a group of German uniformed police (Grüne Polizei) led by SS-Oberscharführer Karl Silberbauer of the Sicherheitsdienst and members of the NSB
The doors to the stockroom stood open, and the first to enter was the Austrian Nazi SS Oberscharführer Karl Silberbauer, followed by the Dutch NSB members (Dutch national socialists, allied to the Nazis) Gezinus Gringhuis, Willem Grootendorst and Maarten Kuiper. The hiders were taken away (and apparently their number was more than expected, as a second car had to be called for), along with two of the four helpers present that day. The remaining staff was not interfered with.
The Franks, van Pelses, and Pfeffer were taken to RSHA headquarters(Reich Main Security Office), where they were interrogated and held overnight. On 5 August they were transferred to the Huis van Bewaring (House of Detention), an overcrowded prison on the Weteringschans. Two days later they were transported to the Westerbork transit camp, through which by that time more than 100,000 Jews, mostly Dutch and German, had passed. Having been arrested in hiding, they were considered criminals and sent to the Punishment Barracks for hard labor.
During the raid, a policeman emptied Otto’s briefcase to fill it with the fugitives’ valuables. In his haste, he dropped a batch of papers and a small diary belonging to Otto’s daughter. This diary, the diary of Anne Frank, was to become the most widely read document to emerge from the Holocaust.
Of the eight Jewish hiders, only Otto Frank returned after the war, as did the two arrested helpers Johannes Kleiman and Victor Kugler. The Secret Annex had been betrayed, but by who?
There are 3 main suspects.
Firstly there is Tonny Ahlers a member of the NSB the Dutch Nazi party.
Ahlers was a violent anti-semite. By the early 1940s he had a lengthy criminal record and had been involved in numerous brawls in Jewish-owned cafes. During the war he denounced Jews and members of the Dutch underground to the Germans. In 1945, Ahlers was tried for his wartime activities and sent to prison.
Tonny Ahlers visited Otto Frank at his office in April 1941, to confront him with a letter addressed to the NSB that mentioned a conversation between Frank and Job Jansen, a former employee. In this conversation, Otto Frank had expressed negative views about the German occupier. Ahlers said that he worked as a courier for the SD (Nazi security service) and for the NSB, and said that he had intercepted the letter by chance. Subsequent investigations showed that he was indeed a frequent visitor at the Security Service, but that his role as courier was simply made up. It is known that Frank twice gave money to Ahlers, though probably not more than 50 guilders altogether. It has not been established that Ahlers visited Frank regularly.
Ahlers was notoriously anti-Semitic, for which he was also convicted after the war, but also an inveterate liar and a braggart. This makes it difficult for researchers to distinguish fact from fiction. Can Ahlers have been the betrayer personally, or did he pass on information to the Nazi Security Service, for example? The latter is possible. Ahlers started a business in the same kind of commodities as Otto Frank’s business. This would have given him access to the stockroom of Opekta / Pectacon, later Gies & Co., when coming to collect ordered goods at Prinsengracht. In this way he may also have had contact with the stockroom manager Willem van Maaren. It is regrettable that Ahlers’ widow, Martha van Kuik, was not interrogated extensively. She was an eye-witness and may have known and seen a great deal. She is still alive today. Carol Ann Lee, biographer of Otto Frank (2002), was the first to present this theory about Tonny Ahlers. In her book she works towards identifying Ahlers as the betrayer, yet without explicitly labeling him as such. It remains a speculative theory, woven into her pages. The Dutch television program Andere tijden, aired on March 12, 2002, explores Lee’s theory.
Willem van Maaren
Stockroom manager Willem van Maaren was suspected of the betrayal for many years, although he never sided with the Nazis. He stole goods and was generally considered dishonest. In Anne’s diary it becomes clear that the Annex occupants also did not trust him. However, inquiries conducted after the war did not turn up any evidence that he was the betrayer. On the other hand, his eager inquisitiveness was very striking. In all sorts of ways, he tried to establish whether people had entered the stockroom in the evening or during the night. From what he noticed, he must have concluded that this was indeed the case. Another very unusual moment occurred when he asked the employees whether there had previously been a Mr. Frank at the office. It is unknown how he came to that name, or why he asked that question. Van Maaren supplied goods to various customers, but it cannot be determined whether Ahlers was one of these. That Ahlers and Van Maaren knew each other, so that Van Maaren may have tried to obtain information for Ahlers, is yet another theory that sounds plausible but that cannot be proven.
Nelly Voskuijl, a younger sister of Bep Voskuijl (in the photo), one of the helpers of Anne Frank and her family in the secret annex in Amsterdam, possibly disclosed in 1944 the hiding place of the Frank’s to SS commander Karl Silberbauer. In 2015, Flemish journalist Jeroen de Bruyn and Joop van Wijk, Bep Voskuijl’s youngest son, wrote a biography, Bep Voskuijl, het zwijgen voorbij: een biografie van de jongste helper van het Achterhuis (Bep Voskuijl, the Silence is Over: A Biography of the Youngest Helper of the Secret Annex), in which they alleged that Bep’s younger sister Nelly (1923–2001) could have betrayed the Frank family. According to the book, Bep’s sister Diny and her fiance Bertus Hulsman recollected Nelly telephoning the Gestapo on the morning of 4 August 1944 Nelly had been critical of Bep and their father, Johannes Voskuijl, helping the Jews. (Johannes was the one who constructed the bookcase covering the entrance to the hiding place.) Nelly was a Nazi collaborator . Karl Silberbauer, the SS officer who received the phone call and made the arrest, was documented to say that the informer had “the voice of a young woman.
It could of course also have been a coincidence.As the period of hiding went on for longer, the hiders became less careful. Curtains were opened beyond just a crack, rooftop windows inadvertently stayed open, accidental noises became more frequent, and so on. All in all, the visible evidence mounted for the world outside that there were people in the building after office hours. People in the outside world may quite innocently have mentioned this in conversation, which could have been overheard by the wrong persons. In this scenario, the name of the night watchman Martin Sleegers plays a prominent role. Following the report of a burglary in the premises in April 1944, he and a police officer went to investigate. They actually fumbled with the bookcase that hid the entrance to the Secret Annex. Anne describes this burglary in her diary entry of April 11, 1944. There is no concrete evidence that Sleegers betrayed the hiders. While it is a fact Sleegers knew the NSB member Gringhuis (who was present at the arrest), this in itself does not constitute proof.
On 3 September 1944, the group was deported on what would be the last transport from Westerbork to the Auschwitz concentration camp and arrived after a three-day journey. On the same train was Bloeme Evers-Emden, an Amsterdam native who had befriended Margot and Anne in the Jewish Lyceum in 1941.
Bloeme saw Anne, Margot, and their mother regularly in Auschwitz, and was interviewed for her remembrances of the Frank women in Auschwitz in the television documentary The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank (1988) by Dutch filmmaker Willy Lindwer and the BBC documentary Anne Frank Remembered (1995).
In early 1945, a typhus epidemic spread through Bergen-Belsen, killing 17,000 prisoners. Other diseases, including typhoid fever, were rampant.Due to these chaotic conditions, it is not possible to say what ultimately caused Anne’s death. Witnesses later testified Margot fell from her bunk in her weakened state and was killed by the shock. Anne died a few days after Margot. The exact dates of Margot and Anne’s deaths were not recorded. It was long thought that their deaths occurred only a few weeks before British soldiers liberated the camp on 15 April 1945,but new research in 2015 indicated that they may have died as early as February of that year.Among other evidence, witnesses recalled that the Franks displayed typhus symptoms by 7 February, and Dutch health authorities reported that most untreated typhus victims died within 12 days of their first symptoms.After liberation, the camp was burned in an effort to prevent further spread of disease; the sisters were buried in a mass grave at an unknown location.
I have often been to Amsterdam but never got the opportunity to visit the Anne Frank house, mainly due to the sheer amount of people trying to get in.
It is good to see that so many people are still interested in her story.