For more than 47 years I have traveled the world with my camera to report on what humans do to humans. As the son of a mother who was the only one of her family to survive deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau, I have always viewed the world with Auschwitz in mind.
In Bosnia I saw that classmates or friends from the local football club could effortlessly report each other or shoot them in the head if the social order gave them reason to do so. In China, children betrayed their parents if they did not live according to the Maoist ideal. In Argentina, compatriots dumped their own compatriots into the sea as garbage, and in El Salvador the volcanic maze of El Playón reeked of the corpses of Salvadorians who were dumped there overnight by other Salvadorians. The history of mankind is permeated with fratricide when circumstances corrupt the mind.
Monday morning, after I de Volkskrant I took Hans van der Leeuw’s Weinreb report from my bookshelf to reread how much Friedrich Weinreb had cheated my family. He had cheated my grandfather into hundreds of thousands of guilders to put him and his family on the list of an imaginary train to Switzerland.
I also gutted and with tears in my eyes by Primo Levi’s I sommersi egg salvati, (The Drowned and the Rescued) browsed and tried again to understand what my mother told me about Auschwitz-Birkenau: that only the strongest characters had a chance of surviving Auschwitz and that survival could mean; survive at the expense of another. In an interview I made with my mother for the movie in 1978 On behalf of our Parents (directed by Monique Wolf and Hans Fels) she says about Auschwitz: ‘There are things I will never tell you.’ Years later, when I pressed her and she reluctantly revealed something to me, I understood that there are things you can’t tell and there are things you can’t hear as a son.
Otto Frank may have unraveled the mystery of the Secret Annex’s betrayal himself. It is possible that someone from the Jewish Council, in order to save himself, betrayed the Jews of the Secret Annex. The real truth that should have been revealed is that a drama unfolded before the eyes of the entire Dutch society, in which the vast majority of the population saw a people drown without throwing a lifeline to them.
Then what these sleuths have apparently turned up now happens: then everyone grabs and fights to grab a branch somewhere, to get a foothold and not to drown. The history of the downfall of Dutch Jewry has many terrible anecdotes, also within the circle of one’s own family.
Otto Frank’s motives may have been deeply humane and wise, to protect a man who desperately sought a crack in the wall to escape. It is also possible that Otto Frank knew that the anonymous indictment was based on nothing at all.
But if it were true that Otto Frank knew the name of the traitor, then it is understandable why he kept silent about it. To avoid the headline now in de Volkskrant appeared. To see the picture of Anne Frank all over the front page. And for those three pages inside the newspaper. To prevent that the finger could be pointed at us, that we ourselves are guilty of our own destruction. My nine-year-old daughter said to me on Monday evening ‘Abba, Anne Frank was betrayed by a Jew.’
I had heard of the cold case project around Anne Frank before. Originally, cold case projects of this kind are a television format, developed by film producers for whom money and continuity of their company are paramount and who clearly have no emotional affinity with the subject. Since it had been obvious for a long time what conclusion one would come to, in the course of the research the TV format has grown into a gigantic money machine: books that come out in god knows how many languages, undoubtedly TV rights in as many countries. A never ending story with maybe more episodes in the future.
The producers have understood very well what the commercial implication of notary Van den Bergh as the main suspect means for their company. What if the investigation revealed that a certain Mr. Jansen had betrayed everything, a day before he had delivered the entire Frank family to Westerbork as a train driver? Then no rooster would have crowed, de Volkskrant at the moment when war with Russia is imminent, not have sacrificed her front page to Anne Frank, because then there would have been nothing new under the sun.
The producers say they have been waking up to their conclusion and have asked some rabbi for his rabbinical blessing. Now this is the definition of a gotspe.
Hans Fels is a cinematographer and cinematographer. He worked for years as editor-in-chief and director for the VPRO (including Diogenes, In the wake of Darwin).