Using new technology, recently discovered documents, and sophisticated investigative techniques, an international team led by an obsessed retired FBI agent has finally solved the mystery that has haunted generations since World War II: who betrayed Anne Frank and her family—and why?
Sullivan writes with absolute dedication and precision, bringing a previously obscure suspect to the fore ... Shaped like a procedural or a whodunit, The Betrayal of Anne Frank nonetheless hums with living history, human warmth and indignation. It agilely shifts the idea of 'collaboration' over eight decades and nearly 400 pages, from dark and insidious crime to noble quest with algorithmic transparency ... The banality of evil that Hannah Arendt provocatively located in the form of Adolf Eichmann is superseded in these pages by the bureaucracy of evil, which is so often also 'the bureaucracy of the absurd,' as Sullivan notes: an alphabet soup of agencies that helped render the vilest crimes against humanity pseudolegal and systematic. Names and terms accumulate and the mind can blur. But the facts of Frank’s devastatingly curtailed life command attention. Here, her famous diary is not literary work to be plundered at will, but Exhibit A in a mountain of damning evidence.
... intermittently gripping ... meticulous ... Sullivan describes the Cold Case Team’s interdisciplinary methods, from criminal profiling, historical research and crowdsourcing to a Microsoft artificial intelligence program that found connections within a blizzard of archival documents. But the book is most engrossing as a portrait of wartime Amsterdam, a city of conflicting and cross-cutting loyalties, where personal peril could erase the line between heroism and villainy ... Then she painstakingly escorts us down various blind alleys that the investigative team pursued, as it whittled 30 theories down to a dozen possible scenarios. Sullivan details and debunks some of these at length ... How much readers care about these dead-ends will depend on both their investment in the Anne Frank saga and their patience. Sullivan’s meandering narrative can be tedious when it focuses on the mystery’s many red herrings ... Sullivan’s dissection of Nazi-occupied Amsterdam’s labyrinthine ethical byways—and how genocidal war produced moral rot—may be a greater contribution than the true-crime story that inspired the project.
Whatever the eventual verdict, it’s clear that Sullivan’s book struggles to find a form and style that serves her material. In particular she seems uncertain about how much prior knowledge she can assume in her readers, which means that two thirds of this book are spent rehashing the story of the Franks’ murder, and the postwar publication of Anne’s diary. Only once Sullivan moves on to actual 'persons of interest' does the narrative begin to pick up, even though here again much of this information has long been in the public domain ... what Sullivan does manage to do is assemble a compelling picture of what it was like to live in Amsterdam under Nazi occupation: here is a collection of increasingly isolated individuals, hungry, terrified and daily faced with impossible choices about whether to save themselves, their loved ones, or the nice family that lives next door. And it is this moral vacuum that follows in the wake of antisemitism, rather than any particular 'perp', that betrayed Anne Frank.