Costco has named as its February “Buyer’s Pick” a book about Anne Frank that has been pulled from the market in the Netherlands, in the latest sign that criticism of the book is unlikely to stem its influence.
‘The Anne Frank Betrayal’ made waves when it was released last month due to its explosive conclusion that a Jew had betrayed Frank’s family to the Nazis.
The book, by Rosemary Sullivan, chronicles the work of an investigative team led by a retired FBI agent who identified “with 85% certainty” a notary public named Arnold van den Bergh as the person who led the German forces to the teenager’s hideout in Amsterdam. columnist, her parents and her sister.
But in the weeks after its publication, Dutch historians, European Jewish leaders and other authors protested the book, saying it unfairly accused a long-dead Dutch Jew without sufficient evidence. Some have presented evidence to suggest that, rather than being the likely culprit in some historical mystery, van den Bergh was defamed.
Amid this pressure, the book’s publisher, Ambo Anthos, suspended sales of the Dutch translation of the book last week.
“There were obvious problems with the research, and probably the last thing Ambo Anthos wanted was a walkout from the authors,” said Johannes Houwink ten Cate, professor emeritus of Holocaust and genocide studies at the University of Amsterdam, at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
But the book remains widely available outside the Netherlands. Its selection as a Costco choice means millions of Americans will see a direct appeal to buy and read it, and many likely will. The books were featured on an episode of “60 Minutes” on January 16.
“I still remember the Anne Frank effect A girl’s diary had on me,” a Costco book buyer named Alex Kanenwisher wrote in the company’s February newsletter. “So I’m very happy to share this month’s Book Buyer’s Choice, The betrayal of Anne Frank by Rosemary Sullivan. The newsletter called the book a “modern thriller”.
According to the book’s reviews, the thriller remains far from resolved. They point to details of van den Bergh’s life, including that he himself went into hiding before the Frank family was betrayed and investigators cleared him of Nazi collaboration after the war, for affirm that it is impossible to conclude that he had given up the location of the family.
Pieter van Twisk, the lead researcher of the cold case team, told JTA that these facts do not refute the book’s conclusion.
“Those in hiding were often pressured or extorted into cooperating,” van Twisk wrote in an email endorsed by Vince Pankoke, the retired FBI agent who led the team. “As long as you could provide valuables (gold, jewelry, money, stocks, paintings and yes addresses etc.) they might have left you alone.”
Although Pankoke and his team have publicly stood by their findings, they said in a statement on their website that it was “very reckless” to claim the conclusion was “85%” accurate. “This does not represent the degree of certainty” of the study results, they wrote in Dutch.
The European Jewish Congress, which represents dozens of Jewish communities in Europe, has officially called for the book to be canceled. Naming a Jewish culprit in a mystery that has upset people from all walks of life could be “potentially inflammatory” at a time of rising anti-Semitism, the group wrote in a letter to the book’s editor.
There is no indication that the challenges against the book will alter its distribution in the United States, where the book is featured prominently in many bookstores. HarperCollins’ main offices and several regional publishers did not respond to JTA’s requests for comment on the book’s review.
Costco’s promotion of the book “continues the trend of Americans wanting to talk less directly about the Holocaust and more to talk about it up close,” tweeted Maris Kreizman, a Jewish author who hosts a book podcast.
Continuing the trend of Americans wanting to talk less directly about the Holocaust and more to talk about it close to it. pic.twitter.com/0u4rlkhMzW
— Maris Kreizman (@mariskreizman) February 9, 2022
Critics fear that the more the book is read, the more likely van den Bergh will be forever suspected of betraying his fellow Jews.
“The debate that is taking place in the Netherlands is not taking place at the same level in Canada and the United States,” said ten Cate. “That means I’m not sure the genie released by the cold case study will ever return to the bottle.”
The controversy swept over Germany. There, the German translation’s editor, Jürgen Welte, announced that it was conducting “an internal review” ahead of the scheduled March 22 release date.
“After two professional edits to the manuscript, we are currently undergoing internal review,” Jürgen Welte said in a statement. “The relatively late publication date of the German-language edition shows that we are handling this sensitive topic extremely responsibly.”