Beware of trivializing the Holocaust


Jan. 29, 2022 — In the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day and the day on which, 80 years ago, the fate of millions of Jews in Europe was sealed at the Wannsee conference, a cold case team presented a book containing the results of its research into the arrest of Anne Frank, the other people in hiding in the secret annex and two of their helpers.

The Anne Frank House attaches great importance to historical research. It has its own research department, and also makes its archives available to other researchers. The importance of cautiousness in research is self-evident.

Cold case research

Besides recognition for the detective work it had carried out, the cold case team soon attracted criticism because of the many assumptions and conjectures it had made, as well as the media spectacle surrounding the book’s publication. The team concluded ‘with 85-87% certainty’ that it must have been notary Arnold van den Bergh who put the Nazi occupiers on the trail of the secret annex. Given the many missing pieces of the puzzle in the cold case team’s theory this is an unjustifiable conclusion, which not only impugns Mr Van den Bergh’s personal integrity but also makes the contentious assertion that the people in hiding in the secret annex were betrayed by a fellow Jew. This has understandably stirred up strong emotions, and led to justified concerns about antisemitic reactions (messages in a WhatsApp group of trainee police officers in The Hague seem to attest to this).

Distortion of the facts

It is important to place the latter in a broader context of developments we have recently seen in relation to protests against the Dutch corona policy. Antisemitic statements regularly cropped up in these, sometimes out of ignorance but also sometimes with malicious intent. What we can see in connection with these protests is not so much a form of Holocaust denial, but a form of ‘Holocaust distortion’; a subtle misrepresentation of historical facts that normalises and expediates antisemitism. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), the intergovernmental organisation of 35 member states pledged to the remembrance of the Holocaust and the struggle against antisemitism, has also rightly made a key educational point of combatting this.

Lesson of history

This week the world remembers the Holocaust. In the Netherlands, since recently, the imposing Holocaust Names Memorial recalls the murder of Dutch Jews, Roma and Sinti. In the mirrors of that monument we not only see the names of those who were murdered; we also see ourselves. We feel the duty to do everything in our power to prevent new tragedies, certainly in times in which the democratic rule of law is under increasing pressure. Dealing carelessly with the Holocaust is totally at odds with this. And in this context we can also learn from Otto Frank, who attached great importance to history lessons and to the lessons of history.

‘We cannot change what happened anymore. The only thing we can do is to learn from the past and to realise what discrimination and persecution of innocent people means.’

Ronald Leopold

Executive Director, Anne Frank House

Statement Anne Frank House about the cold case investigation