If you didn’t know there was a door camouflaged behind the bookcase pictured above, would you ever suspect it? I certainly wouldn’t have. And that was the whole idea behind the building of this bookcase in the first place: it was created to hide the door behind which Anne Frank and seven other Jews hid from the Nazis during World War II in Amsterdam. Along with Anne, there were her parents, Otto and Edith, and sister Margot; Otto’s co-worker Hermann van Pels, his wife Auguste and son Peter; and Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist.
I first came across the story of Anne Frank when I was eleven years old. What puzzled me then, as now, was first and foremost the layout of the office building where Anne and the others were hidden. It sounded like the strangest building imaginable. The place where the eight people hid was called “Het Achterhuis” in Dutch – “the back house” – and it was such an odd concept to Americans that the closest English equivalent anyone could come up with when Anne’s diary was translated into our language was “The Secret Annex.”
The house was on a canal. Apparently canal houses in Holland often were structured sort of like two-family homes, yet vertically rather than horizontally. A “back house” was attached to a “front house.” Or something along those lines. It’s very strange, make no mistake about it.
The canal house in question had empty back rooms in the “back house” part of it, but the business run by Anne’s father was operational in the “front house.” There was a storeroom, offices, workrooms – and employees going in and out during regular business hours. All happening in the same structure, which featured four floors plus and attic, with those in hiding on the third and fourth floors. Oh, and the eight Jews just happened to be stuck trying to stay silent during working hours as they hid in the “back house” while regular daily business action went on in the front, not to mention on two of the floors in the back, right below where the people were hiding.
Four of the office employees helped those in hiding, Miep Gies, Bep Voskuijl, Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleinman. Miep Gies’s husband also knew about the situation, as did Bep Voskuijl’s father, who also worked in the same company. In fact, it was Bep’s father who constructed the bookcase that hid the doorway to the back house.
To make matters even riskier, the windows of the “back house” faced a courtyard with forty, yes, FORTY other structures. A boy who lived in one of the other houses once saw a dark-haired girl looking out of one of the windows. Then she stepped back when she saw him looking at her. After the diary was published, he recognized her as Anne. If he could see her, and presumably any of the other seven who may have been unable to resist the temptation to go too close to a window, how many of the people in the other forty houses around the courtyard could? And how many did?
The Nazis paid rewards to those who tipped them off about Jews in hiding, since on Hitler’s orders, they wanted to make Europe “Judenrein” – free of Jews. Ultimately the group in the back house was betrayed. The Nazis raided the building on August 4, 1944, and to this day it’s not clear who betrayed them with a phone call.
There are a lot of theories. A man who worked in the warehouse and was leaving little traps because he knew there were people hiding in the building. A cleaning lady who also worked in the building and was related to another man, who also worked in the warehouse. Right there, that’s three in the building who weren’t part of the “inner circle” of helpers. Another suspect: a Nazi who had some sort of business dealings with Anne’s father prior to the war, later bragged he was the betrayer, and even went so far as to claim he had “let” the family go into hiding. His story contains more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese. Even if he had let them hide, would he have known precisely where they had secreted themselves? It’s a ridiculous story!
There have been inquiries about the betrayer before, in the 1940’s after the war, in the 1960s, and yet again. A former FBI agent, Vince Pankoke, is now on the case. He will be utilizing artificial intelligence to pour through all the accounts, suspicions, documents, etc. and try to come up with the solution that way. It’s intriguing and wonderful and I can’t wait to find out the name of the creep who turned the eight hiders in.
Here’s my theory. The other day I was watching a documentary about Anne Frank and it was said that when the Nazis raided the hiding place, they made straight for the bookcase that hid the doorway to the back house. Take a look at the photo above again. Were all of the canal houses in Amsterdam constructed with sections in the front and back? Did they all feature an entrance from one part of the houses to the other in the same exact place on the same floor? Every one of them? Because if not, who would know about that bookcase being a ruse to cover the doorway, save for those involved with helping those hiding behind it?
Bep Voskuijl, the office worker who helped hide the family and whose father made the bookcase to conceal the door to the back house, had a sister, Nelly, who was a Nazi collaborator. There’s a book in Dutch about Bep and the possibility of Nelly having been the one. I’m told that in it, Nelly reportedly made snide remarks about her father and sister helping “their Jews.” Bep’s other sister and fiance claimed that they witnessed Nelly making the call.
Nelly Voskuijl is therefore my favorite suspect for the crime of betraying Anne Frank, especially if the Gestapo went directly to the bookcase. If that’s true, the betrayal could only have been made by someone with inside knowledge. Nelly Voskuijl had it. Beside, the courtyard people didn’t know about the bookcase.
Let’s see what the artificial intelligence comes up with! Their progress can be found at: www.coldcasediary.com. If you have information, you can submit it there, so in this age of disclosure, please don’t hold back! If you know something, say something.