Who is Vince Pankoke? Anne Frank cold case investigator helped re-trace 9/11 hijackers

A team of cold case investigators believe that Arnold van den Bergh, a Jewish notary in Amsterdam, told the Germans about the Franks' hiding place


                            Who is Vince Pankoke? Anne Frank cold case investigator helped re-trace 9/11 hijackers
Ex-FBI agent Vince Pankoke is known for having tracked down kidnappers and fugitives in Wisconsin (60 Minutes/Twitter and Anne Frank/Facebook)

Anne Frank's family must have had hopes to successfully stay in hiding until things in the country improved. They might even have made it out alive, if not for someone who betrayed them. Who told the Nazi officers about their Secret Annex?

A team of cold case investigators seems to have found the answer after all these years. The researchers believe that Arnold van den Bergh, a prominent Jewish notary in Amsterdam, told the Germans about the Franks' hiding place to protect his own family. Filmmaker Thijs Bayens came up with the idea to put together a research team to take a look at the case once again.

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Who is Vince Pankoke?

Vince Pankoke is a native of Richland Township outside Johnstown. He spent 27 years as an FBI agent. Pankoke is known for having tracked down kidnappers and fugitives in Wisconsin. He has intercepted Colombian cocaine shipments in Miami and also worked the perimeter of the Branch Davidian complex as a SWAT member in Texas.

Pankoke has also posed undercover as a yacht-owning high-roller to nab corrupt politicians. He has helped re-trace the movements of the 9/11 hijackers. Pankoke retired from the Miami office in 2014 at 57, and lives with his wife Mary Pat.

The cold case team led by Pankoke

The team, led by retired FBI agent Vince Pankoke, comprised around 20 historians, criminologists and data specialists. They reportedly spent as many as six years going through old records, and used modern investigative techniques such as computer algorithms in an attempt to find a suspect.  

“We have investigated over 30 suspects in 20 different scenarios, leaving one scenario we like to refer to as the most likely scenario,” Bayens said, telling the Associated Press that they do not have "100 percent certainty" and that “there is no smoking gun because betrayal is circumstantial.”

The most important piece of evidence that the team laid their hands on was a typed, anonymous note delivered to Otto Frank, Anne's father, after World War II. The letter named Van den Bergh as someone who revealed their secret to German occupiers. Bergh died in 1950. The note was found in an old post-war investigation dossier.

According to the note, Bergh was a member of Amsterdam’s wartime Jewish Council and had access to addresses of places were Jews were hiding. He allegedly revealed the address to save the lives of his own family members. Bergh was a notary for a German art dealer’s sale of a collection of looted Jewish art to senior Nazi Hermann Goering. We do not know much about family members or successors except that he had a wife and kids. He reportedly managed to get his family exempted from being transported.

Investigators believe that Otto Frank knew about the note but did not reveal its existence in an attempt to ensure there was no more anti-Semitism. “Perhaps he just felt that if I bring this up again … it’ll only stoke the fires further,” Pankoke told CBS’s 60 Minutes'. "But we have to keep in mind that the fact that [Van den Bergh] was Jewish just meant that he was placed into an untenable position by the Nazis to do something to save his life.”



 

The team said that they "went looking for a perpetrator and we found a victim", as the Nazi regime and its atrocities prompted Jews to turn on each other to save their own families. The Anne Frank House museum helped the investigators access its archive. Althought it welcomed the “fascinating hypothesis”, it believes there needs to be “further research".

“I don’t think we can say that a mystery has been solved now. I think it’s an interesting theory that the team came up with,” said museum director Ronald Leopold.  He remarked that while it is interesting, he believes that there are still many missing pieces of the puzzle and further investigation is needed to see how this theory fits.

Think of 'the beauty that still remains'

On August 4, 1994, Anne Frank and her family, along with some other people who were hiding in the Annex in her father's business premises at Prinsengracht 263, were discovered and arrested by Nazi officers. Two of the family's helpers were also arrested. To this day, however, we do not know the reason for the police raid.

Just before she went into hiding, Anne was presented with a diary on her 13th birthday. During the two years of hiding, the little girl wrote about everything that unfolded inside the Secret Annex. She also penned her thoughts and feelings, saying on once ocassion, despite the struggles, that she does not "think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains."

In early 1944, Anne was deported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp while her parents stayed behind in Auschwitz. Anne soon contracted typhus after struggling with a lack of food and fighting for her life in the cold in Bergen-Belsen. She died in February 1945.

Otto Frank was the only person from the Secret Annex to survive the war. Anne's diary was rescued by Miep Gies, Otto's friend and secretary. Decades later, her words continue to leave a lasting impact on the minds of the readers.