A Secret Well Kept

Patty Osborne

On April 4, 1944, a German SS officer named Karl Josef Silberbauer was informed by phone that there were Jews hiding at Prinsengracht 263 in occupied Amsterdam, and when Silberbauer and his men raided the building they found eight Jews there, including Anne Frank. The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation by Rosemary Sullivan (HarperCollins), is a recounting of how a group of people (who became known as “the Cold Case Team”) worked for five years to uncover who had made that call. The team included journalists, archivists, an FBI behavioural scientist, a retired FBI profiler, a forensic statistician, a handwriting expert, a rabbi, members of the Dutch National Police, Holocaust survivors, and relatives of the murdered. As they worked, they came to realize that they also “wanted to understand what happens to a population under enemy occupation when ordinary life is threaded with fear,” so even though each clue was examined, recorded, and cross-checked, this story is much more than a procedural. According to testimony from Otto Frank—the sole survivor of the hiders—and from the “helpers” who supplied them with food, water, and other support, the hiders remained calm during the raid, while Silberbauer grabbed the briefcase that contained Anne’s diary, threw the diary and other papers on the floor and then filled the briefcase with valuables and money. When the raid was over, one of the helpers picked up the diary and put it into a desk drawer to save until Anne returned. Rosemary Sullivan got involved with the cold case investigation in 2018, when the Cold Case Team had narrowed the project down to about thirty theories, and thanks to her excellent writing, we’re right there with the team on their twisting, turning, and sometimes overlapping paths. In the end, a chance remark during an interview recorded many years ago, plus a handwritten note on a scrap of paper led to the solution. I listened to the audiobook, read at just the right pace by Julia Whelan, who has a mellifluous voice and pronounced all the German and Dutch proper names flawlessly. Each time Whelan paused and then read the name of a new chapter, I felt the hope that the investigators must have felt each time they turned their attention to a new possibility.

Patty Osborne

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