The title of Rosemary Sullivan’s important new book, “The Betrayal of Anne Frank,” resounds far beyond its primary meaning. Sullivan is chronicling the investigation of a cold case, the unsolved mystery of who alerted authorities in the summer of 1944 to the hiding place of Frank, her family and four other Jewish people, above a pectin and spice warehouse in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, resulting in their arrest and deportation to concentration camps. Two official investigations, begun in 1947 and 1963, failed to reveal the identity of the informant; the matter has preoccupied multiple biographers since. Sullivan writes with absolute dedication and precision, bringing a previously obscure suspect to the fore.
But Frank, who died at 15 of typhus at Bergen-Belsen days after the death of her sister, Margot, has been betrayed in so many ways. Some would say by having her diaries published at all: initially in 1947 by her father, Otto Frank, the owner of the warehouse at Prinsengracht 263 and the only survivor of the group, who made omissions for propriety that were restored in later editions. (Mild sexual themes and rebelliousness against Anne’s mother, Edith, newly incited the kind of school communities that had previously suppressed the work for being a “real downer.”)
Still, Anne Frank wanted fervently to be a professional writer, and had revised her diaries with eventual publication in mind. More questionable than any variation of her text are the shiny-eyed spinoffs that resulted from its global success: plays, movies, musicals, a graphic adaptation, a children’s book from a cat’s point of view, a YouTube series that reimagines her with a video camera instead of a pen, postcards, cotton totes: the Anne Frank franchise. Too often she has been idealized as a symbol of the indomitable human spirit rather than contextualized as a victim of genocide deserving justice.