“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart,” wrote Anne Frank, the Dutch-Jewish girl who kept a diary while she and her family were in hiding for two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
In relation to the Holocaust she questioned, “Who has inflicted this upon us? Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now?” Anne and seven other family members were discovered by the Nazis on August 4, 1944 in a secret annex above a warehouse in Amsterdam. After all were discovered and deported separately to concentration camps, Anne became ill and died when she was only 15 years old.
The question of who could have alerted the Nazis about the Frank’s family location has puzzled multiple researchers for almost eight decades. Following a six-year investigation, an international team of historians and other experts, disclosed the identity of the man who they believe betrayed Anne Frank’s family during World War II.
The main suspect is a Jewish notary and businessman named Arnold van den Bergh, a member of the Judenrat in the Netherlands, who presumably disclosed the Franks’ hiding place to protect his own family from deportation.
The presumption that a Jew betrayed another Jew elicited contrasting reactions; there are those who are outraged by the claim and those who say they are not surprised by this expression of Jewish self-hatred. But I choose to look at the humane side of things: never judge someone until I have walked in their shoes.
Many years ago I watched a documentary film about two Jews – one of them a prisoner put to torturous forced labor at a Nazi concentration camp, and the other, his strict supervisor who did everything he could to oppress him. Today they are good friends.
And when the oppressed Jew was asked how he could look his former, cruel boss in the eyes, he answered simply: “I understand him. If I had been in his place I would have done exactly the same.”
My conclusion is simple: even if the results of the new investigation are true and indeed it was a Jew who betrayed Anne Frank and her family, we cannot judge people who are under heavy duress. We can talk about the importance of democracy, express ourselves creatively on an enlightened world, play in life like on a theater stage, but once we experience extreme circumstances in our lives and are in a situation where we are trapped, then we discover that psychology takes on a new form: fear and threat can bring us to a new way of thinking. It may even encourage deeds, which in normal conditions would be considered cruel and unthinkable. So is human nature.