Seventy-five years after its publication, “The Diary of Anne Frank” remains among the most widely-read books in the world. Blinkering between hope and despair, the account of a Jewish teenager’s life in hiding in an annex behind an Amsterdam warehouse, gave voice and a face to millions of victims of the Nazi genocide, yet one question has gone stubbornly unanswered all these years: who alerted the Nazi search team, in 1944, to Anne Frank and her family’s hiding place? Two Dutch police inquiries and countless historians have come up with theories, but no firm conclusions… Then, in 2016, a team of investigators, led by a veteran FBI agent, decided to bring modern crime-solving techniques and technology to this cold case. And now, they believe they have an answer—one we’ll share with you tonight—to a question that’s bedeviled historians, and haunted Holland: who was responsible for the betrayal?
Vince Pankoke had turned in his badge and gun. He was two years into a comfortable Florida retirement, when his phone rang in the spring of 2016.
Vince Pankoke: I received a call from a colleague from the Netherlands who said, “If you– if you’re done laying on the beach, we have a case for you.”
Jon Wertheim: Were you laying on the beach?
Vince Pankoke: I– I was actually driving to the beach. I w– (LAUGH) I wasn’t quite there yet.
Pankoke spent three decades as an FBI special agent, targeting Colombian drug cartels. His work had also taken him to the Netherlands, where his investigative chops left an impression.
Jon Wertheim: Were you looking to get back when he told you what it was about?
Vince Pankoke: After he told me it was to, you know, try to solve the mystery of what caused the raid– for Anne Frank and the others in the annex. I needed to hear more.
Four-thousand miles away, in Amsterdam, Thijs Bayens a Dutch filmmaker and documentarian, had been asking around for a credentialed investigator to dig into a question that he feels Holland has never quite reckoned with, one that gets to the essence of human nature.
Thijs Bayens: For me, it was really important to investigate what makes us– give up on each other. The area where Anne Frank lived is very normal. And it’s a very warm area with the butcher and the doctor and the policeman. They worked together. They loved each other. They lived together. And suddenly people start to betray on each other. How could that happen?
Jon Wertheim: Of the millions, literally millions of stories to come out of the Holocaust, why do you think this one resonates the way it does?
Thijs Bayens: I think right after the war people were shown– the concentration camps, the atrocities that took place, the horror. And, suddenly you find this innocent, beautiful, very smart, funny, talented girl. And she as a lighthouse comes out of the darkness. And then I think humanity said, “This is who we are.
Betraying fellow Dutch to the Nazis was a criminal offense in the Netherlands, but two police probes and a whole library of books dedicated to the Anne Frank case, yielded neither…