It claimed to have solved one of the pressing mysteries of the second world war – who betrayed Anne Frank and her family by giving away their hiding place to Nazi police.
But after just two months, Dutch publisher Ambo Anthos has said it will no longer publish the bestselling book “The Betrayal of Anne Frank” because of doubts about its findings, including a report by five prominent Dutch historians this week.
“Based on the conclusions of this report, we have decided that, effective immediately, the book will no longer be available,” Ambo Anthos, which apologised for the book last month, said in a statement. “We will call upon bookstores to return their stock.”
The book, by Canadian author Rosemary Sullivan, based its findings on a cold case team led by a former FBI agent, which featured on the CBS News program 60 Minutes in January. The team accused Arnold van den Bergh, a Dutch Jewish notary who died in 1950, of pointing the Nazi police to the secret annexe above a canal-side warehouse in Amsterdam where Frank and seven other Jews had been hiding.
The group were discovered in August 1944 after they had evaded capture for nearly two years. All were deported and Anne died in the Bergen Belsen camp at age 15.
The finding was made on the basis of six years of research and an anonymous note received by Anne’s father, Otto Frank, claiming that Van den Bergh – a member of a Jewish council, an administrative body the Germans forced Jews to establish – was culpable. Sullivan’s book claimed he had been motivated by fears for his family’s life.
But shortly after publication, there was a significant backlash by Jewish groups, historians and independent researchers who criticised the cold case team’s conclusion. In contention was the central claim that the Amsterdam Jewish council even had a list of Jewish hiding places that Van den Bergh could draw on.
Last month, the main umbrella group for Europe’s national Jewish communities urged HarperCollins to pull the English edition, saying it had tarnished Anne Frank’s memory and the dignity of Holocaust survivors. In an emotional public plea, Van den Bergh’s granddaughter, Mirjam de Gorter, asked the publisher to issue a retraction. “My grandfather has been portrayed worldwide as an international scapegoat,” she said.
On Tuesday, a 69-page refutation by six Dutch historians and academics said the cold case team’s findings “does not hold water”. The experts said the book “displays a distinct pattern in which assumptions are made by the CCT (Cold Case Team), held to be true a moment later, and then used as a building block for the next step in the train of logic”. This, they added, “makes the entire book a shaky house of cards”.
“There is not any serious evidence for this grave accusation,” the experts found.
In response, the cold case team’s leader, Pieter van Twisk, told Dutch broadcaster NOS the historians’ work was “very detailed and extremely solid” and said it “gives us a number of things to think about, but for the time being I do not see that Van den Bergh can be definitively removed as the main suspect”.
Since the book’s publication, the team has published detailed reactions to criticism of its work on its website. Dutch film-maker Thijs Bayens, who had the idea to put together the cold case team, conceded in January that the team did not have 100% certainty about Van den Bergh. “There is no smoking gun because betrayal is circumstantial,” Bayens told The Associated Press at the time.
Anne Frank’s published diary spans the period in hiding between 1942 and her last entry on 1 August 1944. It has been translated into 60 languages.
The Anne Frank House museum, which is based in the building where the Frank family hid, had no immediate comment on the Dutch historian’s research. Museum director Ronald Leopold previously called the cold case team’s conclusion “an interesting theory” but said “there are still many missing pieces of the puzzle”.
HarperCollins, which released the English edition of the book with plans to publish it in more than 20 languages, did not respond to a request for comment.