The Last Secret of the Secret Annex: The Untold Sto­ry of Anne Frank, Her Silent Pro­tec­tor, and a Fam­i­ly Betrayal

  • Review
By – May 15, 2023

Despite the fact that so much has been writ­ten about Anne Frank, the read­ing pub­lic always seems ready for some­thing nov­el, some­thing fresh, a revised look at an old the­o­ry in our shared quest to under­stand the Franks and what hap­pened to them. The Last Secret of the Secret Annex gives us the chance to appre­ci­ate new­ly revealed aspects of a sto­ry we thought we knew so well.

This sat­is­fy­ing book is so attrac­tive in part because it offers a mix of his­tor­i­cal inves­ti­ga­tion and deeply per­son­al fam­i­ly mem­oir. It also pulls us in through its use of lyri­cal lan­guage and its rich descrip­tions of the peo­ple and places that defined Anne Frank’s world.

The research and writ­ing are the result of an unusu­al col­lab­o­ra­tion between a fam­i­ly mem­ber of Bep Voski­u­jl, one of the five peo­ple who hid the Frank fam­i­ly, and a young man who became obsessed with the Franks’ sto­ry as a teenag­er. After retir­ing from a career in mar­ket­ing, sev­en­ty-three-year-old Joop van Wijk-Viskui­jl, the third of Bep’s four chil­dren, has com­plete­ly ded­i­cat­ed him­self to reveal­ing his mother’s sto­ry. He works along­side Jeroen De Bruyn, a jour­nal­ist forty-four years his junior, to present new and fruit­ful research in a com­plete­ly engag­ing way.

Of the 140,000 Jews who resided in the Nether­lands when Hitler occu­pied the coun­try in 1940, only 35,000, or twen­ty-five per­cent, sur­vived. It was the high­est death rate of all the West­ern Euro­pean coun­tries invad­ed by the Nazis. Many died by sui­cide; most were killed in the camps. Yet 28,000 believed their best chance was to hide.

Because the sto­ry of the Frank fam­i­ly and the four oth­er Jews who hid with them has been shared around the world, the hard­ships of liv­ing in hid­ing are well known today. Yet Joop and Jeroen add sig­nif­i­cant detail, reveal­ing that one of the pri­ma­ry life­lines that helped the hid­den cope was hav­ing a con­fi­dante. This role was filled for Anne by twen­ty-three-year-old Bep, the youngest of the five helpers, dur­ing the 761 days the Franks lived in the secret annex. 

The involve­ment between Joop’s fam­i­ly and the Franks was deep and broad. It was Joop’s grand­fa­ther Johan, for exam­ple, who built the stair­case in the secret annex that led to the hid­ing place. Joop tells us he grew up in the shad­ow of the secret annex, a vic­tim of inher­it­ed his­tor­i­cal trau­ma. Sad as that might be, we ben­e­fit great­ly from Joop’s abil­i­ty to reveal the fright­en­ing sto­ry that tore apart his family’s legacy.

The book aims to shine light not only on the inside of the annex but also on the world out­side. After all, most peo­ple have a false idea of what hap­pened in Dutch Holo­caust his­to­ry. For one thing, it was not uncom­mon for resis­tors and col­lab­o­ra­tors to live under the same roof (Bep’s sis­ter Nel­ly col­lab­o­rat­ed with the Nazis, and Bep nev­er got over her fear that Nel­ly betrayed the Frank fam­i­ly). For anoth­er, while it was the Ger­mans who made the rules, it was the Dutch who imple­ment­ed them.

But the val­ue of this book goes far beyond new facts and sur­pris­ing fam­i­ly rev­e­la­tions, fas­ci­nat­ing though they are. Joop and Jeroen say it best when they explain why we are all so inter­est­ed in Anne Frank and her fam­i­ly: Six mil­lion was just a num­ber, but Anne’s Frank’s sto­ry gives you the Holo­caust in minia­ture, a crime peo­ple could under­stand, a vic­tim they could love. And once that lit­tle girl broke your heart, you could mul­ti­ply it over and over again, and the scale of the thing hit you in a deep­er way that reached across cul­tures, mak­ing the Holo­caust mat­ter to peo­ple who had nev­er even known the dif­fer­ence between a gen­tile and a Jew.”

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

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