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‘I’d never seen a boat come in with so many bodies’: the mortal cost of the Atlantic migrant route | Global development

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At 6.30am on Friday 28 May, three fishermen at work four miles off the southern coast of Tobago spotted a large white boat adrift on the dawn waters of the Caribbean.

As they drew closer, the trio saw the boat’s shape was far from local, and noticed a strong smell coming from inside it. The body the fishermen glimpsed at the bow was enough to confirm their suspicions. They called the coastguard who, unable to dispatch a vessel, asked them to tow the boat ashore at Belle Garden beach.

The sun was bright and the tide still low when William Nurse, an assistant commissioner with the Trinidad and Tobago police, arrived on the scene 90 minutes later. What Nurse saw on the calm, sheltered beach at Belle Garden that morning was unlike anything he had witnessed in nearly four decades as a police officer.

“I’d never seen a boat come in with so many bodies. I’d never seen anything like it,” says Nurse. “Most of the bodies were concentrated in the middle of the boat. There were two bodies to the rear of the boat and there were a few towards the bow. I think one of those ones towards the bow was the last to die because there was still hair on the head.”

The migrant boat that was found floating off Tobago at the end of May, containing the bodies of 15 people.
The migrant boat that was found floating off Tobago at the end of May, containing the bodies of 15 people. Photograph: Courtesy of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service

Thirteen badly decomposed corpses were recovered from the boat at first. Then, after the water was drained from the bottom, officers found another body and some skeletal remains.

There were no lifejackets, no trace of food, and evidence that only a scant amount of fuel had been brought to run a 40hp outboard engine that was far too small to properly power the 42ft-long boat, which was registered in Mauritania. Police found 1,000 Swiss francs, €50 and a number of mobile phones. Those that weren’t irretrievably corroded were traced to Mauritania and Mali.

Even before postmortem examinations determined that 13 of the 15 bodies were those of African men, Nurse and his colleagues had begun to suspect that those aboard had not been trying to reach the Caribbean. “We know that people from other African countries stop in Mauritania to get a boat with the hope of getting to Europe,” he said. But those aboard the boat registered as AG231 – 15 people who died of hunger, thirst and exposure – appear to have overshot the continent by almost the entire width of the north Atlantic.

Six weeks later, Nurse got a phone call from Deputy Commissioner Rodney Adams of the Turks and Caicos police. A boat carrying 15 bodies had been discovered drifting in the waters off Grand Turk.

“We suspect the same thing may have happened as it did with Tobago,” said Adams. “We’ve had small boats coming across to us here in the Turks and Caicos from our neighbours 80 or 90 miles to the south in Haiti, but not from the other side of the Atlantic.”

The two boats and their 30 bodies are the exceptions to a deadly rule: most of those who die on the increasingly perilous Atlantic route from Africa to the Canary Islands are never found, their small boats, or pateras, swallowed by the waves.

In the midst of continuing instability and conflict, the climate crisis, border closures forced by the Covid pandemic and increased controls in some north African countries, the gangs that ferry migrants and refugees between Africa and Europe are making more and more use of the Atlantic route.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 7,418 migrants and refugees have arrived by sea in the Canaries so far this year, while 250 have died in the attempt. The fatalities are up on the same period last year – when 237 people died – and well above the total number of deaths in 2019, when 210 people lost their lives.

The IOM, however, believes that the true number of deaths is far higher because of the number of “invisible shipwrecks” – boats that vanish without trace. A recent report from the Spanish migration NGO Caminando Fronteras (Walking Borders) suggested the true number could be almost eight times the IOM’s estimates. Caminando Fronteras, which has spent 14 years tracking and helping to co-ordinate the rescues of people who come to grief en route to Spain from Africa, estimates that 1,922 people died or disappeared while trying to reach the Canaries by sea between January and the end of June this year. By their calculations, the Atlantic route claimed 1,851 lives last year.

A rescued child is carried ashore at Arguineguín, on Gran Canaria, in March.
A rescued child is carried ashore at Arguineguín, on Gran Canaria, in March. Photograph: Eduardo Robaina

The port of Arinaga, half an hour’s drive south of Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria, offers its own mute summary of what it going on across the Spanish archipelago and on the waves that lead to it. Across its grey volcanic sands, under giant wind turbines and beneath the passenger planes descending towards the airport, lie the scores of pateras that have arrived on Gran Canaria over the past year and a half. Ropes twist and snap in the fierce winds that whip across the port, and the names of the boats – Salma, Fatima, Nafai, Hayat among many others – are inscribed across the prows like the names on tombstones.

In their sandy, bleaching timbers lie glimpses of their voyages: empty water bottles; rusty tins of tuna and sardines; milk cartons with Arabic script; a single wellington boot; a pair of knock-off Adidas; spent batteries; a solitary sparkplug; and a very occasional lifejacket.

One of the pateras seems newly arrived, its hull still slicked with green, floor speckled with chickpeas and dates bloating in the sun, and the pungent smell of human faeces.

No part of the archipelago, however, speaks of all this quite as plainly as a small corner of San Lázaro cemetery. Past the labyrinths of flower-decked niches and beyond the palms, the cactuses and the stones where Gran Canaria’s giant lizards charge up in the late afternoon sun, is a small grave ringed with stones. The gold letters on a thick piece of white ribbon read: “Eléne Habiba Traore, forever in our hearts.”

Eléne, an 18-month-old old girl from Mali, had just reached the Gran Canaria port of Arguineguín with her mother and sister on the evening of 16 March this year when her heart stopped and she lost consciousness. Red Cross workers managed to resuscitate her, but she died in hospital five days later and was buried in the small Muslim section of San Lázaro, thanks to the efforts of the Federation of African Associations in the Canary Islands (FAAC), which helped arrange a plot and find an imam to officiate at her funeral.

Teodoro Bondyale, the secretary of the FAAC, refers to Eléne and countless others as murder victims because, he says, the conditions they face on the Atlantic route represent an almost certain death.

“What blame can that little girl from Mali possibly have?” he asks. “She just had the bad luck to be born in this century, may she rest in peace.” If a decent burial is a basic right, adds Bondyale, “then so is the right not to have to flee from your country. Where is the right to not have to migrate? That’s the basic question we have to ask ourselves: Why would a mother put her little girl into a small boat?”

The grave of 18-month old Eléne from Mali in San Lázaro cemetery on Gran Canaria.
The grave of 18-month old Eléne from Mali in San Lázaro cemetery on Gran Canaria. Photograph: Courtesy, Federation of African Associations of the Canary Islands

The high numbers of deaths and arrivals are stirring up a painful sense of deja vu on the archipelago. Over the course of 2020 – but overwhelmingly in its final three months – 23,023 men, women and children arrived in the Canaries, pushing its unprepared and under-resourced reception infrastructure to the point of collapse.

If last year didn’t quite reach the levels of 2006 – the year of the “cayuco crisis”, when 36,000 people reached the Spanish archipelago in small and dangerous fishing boats – it dwarfed those of 2019, when arrivals stood at just 2,698.

Last autumn’s squalid images from the dock at Arguineguín, not to mention the Spanish government’s refusal to move people to the mainland, called into question the humanitarian credentials of the Socialist administration that won so many plaudits for taking in the 630 people aboard the rescue ship Aquarius in the early summer of 2018. After visits from Human Rights Watch, Spain’s public ombudsman and others, the makeshift Arguineguín camp was dismantled and its occupants moved to hastily constructed facilities elsewhere on the island, where many reported similarly awful conditions.

Amnesty International has warned there is still time to avoid similarly “horrific scenes” in the Canaries this year, but says the Spanish government must act now to ensure that the most vulnerable arrivals are protected and transferred to the mainland.

Both Spain’s interior ministry and its migration ministry insist resources are in place to prevent a repetition of the failings of 2020. On a recent visit to the Canaries the interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, said the archipelago now had “[reception] infrastructure that’s worthy of the strong and solid country that Spain is”, adding that arrivals to the Canaries were “moved elsewhere when necessary, and according to their vulnerability and to our analysis”.

The migration ministry, meanwhile, says the current situation bears little comparison with last year’s, not least because it has provided 7,000 reception places in six camps across the islands – of which 1,800 are currently occupied.

Recovered small boats on Gran Canaria.
Recovered small boats on Gran Canaria. Photograph: Eduardo Robaina/The Guardian

José Javier Sánchez Espinosa, director for social inclusion at the Spanish Red Cross, is also cautiously optimistic. “Between January and 28 July last year, we helped 3,100 people,” he said. “Over the same period this year, we’ve attended to 7,621 people. So we’ve more than doubled the number we’re helping. But the provision of reception and humanitarian assistance is much easier this year because there are more a lot more resources.”

Much, however, will depend on what happens after the summer. The surge in last year’s numbers, driven mainly by people leaving Morocco amid the economic devastation wrought by coronavirus, only began in September.

Txema Santana, a migration adviser to the regional government of the Canaries, sees no reason why this year should be any better. “The pandemic is the same – or worse – in both health and economic terms, and none of the situations people are leaving behind show symptoms of improving: you still have war in Mali; the conflicts in the Sahel are becoming more drawn out; things aren’t getting any better in Senegal; and you have the same repression in Guinea Conakry.” he said. “And then we’ll see what happens with Moroccans, because they’re the ones who will determine the intensity of the rise.”

A migrant helper at the church in Las Reyohas, Gran Canaria
A migrant helper at the church in Las Reyohas, Gran Canaria. Photograph: Eduardo Robaina/The Guardian

Santana and others say there must be no repeat of the interior ministry’s airport blockade, which stopped new arrivals with valid passports from flying to mainland Spain and was only overturned by the courts in mid-April.

“If people can’t be moved to other parts of Spain, then, yes, there could be more problems here in the Canaries,” said Santana. “But even [the transfers] don’t mean there aren’t people who are having to live on the street because they’ve got nowhere to go. There are still people in camps who’ve been here for six months.”

José Antonio Benítez, a Claretian missionary and the parish priest of Our Lady of Peace in Las Rehoyas, one of Gran Canaria’s most deprived neighbourhoods, knows all too well what happens when the system begins to buckle and small NGOs and community groups have to step in.

Last year, he witnessed the toll the crisis was taking on both locals and the new arrivals. “People didn’t stop arriving and the response from the authorities was silence, inaction and closing the borders,” he said. “There was no way to get out and people ended up staying here. That led to a lot of unease within the Canaries. People were tired of the situation, and there were the fears being whipped up by certain political groups. Then you had the pandemic, which left the islands’ economic, employment and health situation in an awful state.”

Rumours and fake news – much of it spread by the far right – led to protests and outbreaks of xenophobic violence. Towards the end of 2020, stories that migrants were raping women brought people on to the streets of Las Rehoyas with sticks and knives. Today, the neighbourhood is quieter. A handful of young migrants sit in a room off the parish centre kitchen and chat in their newly acquired Spanish as they make sandwiches for the church’s soup kitchen, which feeds up to 60 each day – most of them native Canary islanders.

Three men recover in Arrieta on Lanzarote last month after being rescued from a small boat.
Three men recover in Arrieta on Lanzarote last month after being rescued from a small boat. Photograph: Javier Fuentes/EPA

Babacar Ndiaye left his home in Senegal in October last year and endured a seven-day voyage in a small boat with 50 others. After arriving at Arguineguín, where he spent 10 days on the dock, he was put in a hotel for four months and wound up on the streets until a woman from a local NGO brought him to the church.

“I was a fisherman back in Senegal but the fishing just isn’t what is once was – you work a lot and earn very little,” said the 30-year-old. “So I decided to leave my wife and two daughters behind and come to Spain. It was pure chance that we made it.”

Ndiaye is desperate to work – “maybe in a restaurant or as a driver; anything” – but can’t until his papers come through. For now, he bides his time, watches his two young daughters grow up in video calls, and shrugs off the hatred he sometimes receives.

“There’s one woman who just can’t bear seeing black people and who calls us trash and other horrible things, but that doesn’t bother me,” he said. “Anyway, I wouldn’t answer her back because she’s an older woman like my mother. And there are also some really good people here.”

Hassan Hadda, another sandwich maker, has been in the Canaries since April 2017 and is still waiting to be regularised. Like Ndiaye, the 25-year-old Moroccan wants to find work so he can send money home to his parents and six younger siblings. And, like Ndiaye, he will never forget his journey to the archipelago from Dakhla in Western Sahara.

“People who’ve never made that journey will never understand it,” he says. “It took three days and there were 28 people in a 5 metre-long boat that was a metre-and-a-half wide. We were packed liked sardines. I’d always dreamed of getting to Europe since I was a kid. It didn’t matter where it was – France, Spain or anywhere else – I felt I’d never have a future if I stayed where there’s no work and no human rights. That is why I risked my life.”

The interior of the migrant boat that was found floating off Tobago.
The interior of the migrant boat that was found floating off Tobago. Photograph: Courtesy of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service

Across the Atlantic, William Nurse is hopeful that fingerprints taken from three of the bodies will help identify at least some of those who drifted to the coast of Tobago. For now, though, they lie, unnamed, but probably not unmourned, in a morgue in Port of Spain.

The ugly historical echoes of their fatal, 3,500-mile voyage are not lost on the assistant commissioner of police. “I never thought that a region from which my foreparents were brought would produce a boat with dead people trying to reach Europe but which ended up in the Caribbean,” he said. “They were trying to flee something – I don’t know what it was – but everybody’s looking for a better life.”

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Marlon Botas: Montserrat Bendimes: Why the young Mexican student’s murder has gone unpunished | International

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Montserrat Bendimes in a social media photograph.
Montserrat Bendimes in a social media photograph.RR.SS.

Her family says that during the time that Montserrat Bendimes was hospitalized with severe trauma, the 20-year-old engineering student uttered the following sentence before she died: “It was Marlon.” The young woman had been admitted in April of last year after her partner allegedly gave her a brutal beating that kept her on life support until her body gave out. By then, the main suspect was already unaccounted for.

With his parents’ help, according to the State Prosecutor’s Office, Marlon Botas managed to flee while his girlfriend lay dying in a hospital. More than a year after what happened, only his parents are serving a sentence for aiding their son, but Botas is still a fugitive and Bendimes’ crime remains unpunished. This Monday, her former partner sent a message from an undisclosed alleging that he and his parents are innocent.

Bendimes’ murder triggered a wave of indignation in Veracruz, where the feminist groups that have provided support for her family organized marches and actions to seek justice. The capture of Botas’ parents in Mexico City in November of last year set a precedent for aiding and abetting murderers, according to these organizations. And the state of Veracruz was papered with the face of Marlon Botas: graffiti on walls, wanted posters, videos and images on social media. The Prosecutor’s Office announced that it had asked Interpol to issue a red notice (issued for fugitives who are wanted for prosecution or to serve a sentence) in almost 100 countries and offered a reward of 250,000 pesos (about $12,500) for any clue about his whereabouts.

The Bendimes case has since made no more progress, as often happens with most crimes in Mexico, where 95% of them are never solved. This is especially true in cases of sexist violence, compounded by a national security crisis that no government has managed to control and which claims the lives of 11 women a day. Despite the imprisonment of his parents, who had fled to the nation’s capital, Botas has so far gotten away with it.

This Monday, the television network Imagen showed a video that the show’s hosts said reached them anonymously, in which Botas can be seen against a white background. Botas says that what happened was an “unfortunate accident” and that his family had nothing to do with it. He also claimed there was a “hunt” against him and his family, and asked that his parents, Diana Fuentes and Jorge Botas, be released. Reaction on social media was intense. The women of Mexico are accustomed to hearing so many times and in so many cases that dead women committed suicide, fell, got themselves killed.

The Veracruz Prosecutor’s Office, as well as Governor Cuitláhuac García, responded in a statement that the “procurement of justice is not negotiated.” “In this case, as in all those in which a woman is attacked, there will be no impunity,” said the message signed by the State Attorney General, Verónica Hernández. However, more than a year after the death, the main suspect is still at large and the fact he had the audacity to send a message to the authorities reveals the confidence he has that impunity will play in his favor.

Shouting “It was not an accident”, hundreds of social media users have once again shown their outrage at a case that builds on a series of other unsolved murders. The most recent victims are María Fernanda Contreras, 27, Debanhi Escobar, 18 and Yolanda Martínez, 26, about whom the authorities still point to a suicide without having revealed details of how she died.

The Mexican feminist movement has been gaining traction in recent years. Each case of a murdered woman or a victim of sexist violence has triggered protests that were unthinkable just a decade ago.

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Twenty-five ethnic Pamiris killed by security forces in Tajikistan protests | Global development

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At least 25 people were killed on Wednesday by security forces in Tajikistan during a protest in the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan (GBAO), where the Tajik regime has targeted the Pamiri ethnic minority.

The deaths mark an escalation of violence in the region. Conflict between the central government and the Pamiri has continued for decades, with the cultural and linguistic minority ethnic group suffering human rights abuses, as well as discrimination over jobs and housing.

The Pamir region has been the only place in Tajikstan where anti-government protesters still take to the streets, despite the authoritarian pro-Kremlin regime.

According to witnesses, several hundred residents of Khorog, the capital of GBAO, gathered at the weekend to call for the dismissal of the governor and the release of demonstrators arrested for participation in a protest in November, when three men were killed and 17 wounded by security forces.

Protests continued until Wednesday when, as people marched to the main square in Khorog, security forces blocked the road and allegedly started firing rubber bullets, stun grenades and teargas at the protesters, killing at least 25 people.

Map of Tajikistan showing region

The Tajik government claimed “members of an organised criminal group” had blocked the highway “in order to destabilise the social and political situation”.

In a statement on the state news agency, Khovar, the interior ministry said: “Law enforcement agencies have begun an anti-terror operation … in a restive region that borders Afghanistan and China and has long been a flashpoint of tensions.”

The Tajik authorities claimed that arms and support from foreign “terrorist organisations” were coming in to the Pamiri region.

“The organised criminal groups did not comply with the lawful demands of law-enforcement officers to hand over their weapons and ammunition, and put up armed resistance,” the interior ministry said.

But activists said their protests had been peaceful. “The government is branding and naming the peaceful protesters as ‘terrorists’, which is a complete fake, and then using that as an excuse to shoot at them,” said one Pamiri activist who cannot be named for security reasons.

During the Tajikistan civil war from 1992 to 1997, thousands of Pamiris were killed in what some human rights activists have described as “ethnic cleansing”.

In 2012, during clashes seen by many in GBAO as an attempt by the Tajik government to bring the autonomous region under its full control, at least 40 civilians were killed.

In February, parents of men killed by Tajik forces during a protest in November called on the international community to step in and protect ethnic minority groups.

Families have demanded that the soldiers responsible for killing their sons be brought to justice and urged the United Nations to intervene.

Guards in old-fashioned shako hats salute two men as they walk through huge golden doors
Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rahmon, right, at Monday’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. Photograph: Mikhael Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin/EPA

Tajikistan’s president of 28 years, Emomali Rahmon, who met the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on Monday, is seen by the Pamiri as wanting to take control of Gorno-Badakhshan.

Neil Clarke, head of the legal programme at Minority Rights Group International, told the Guardian: “The deteriorating human rights situation in the region is leaving the population, who are mainly Indigenous peoples and ethnic and linguistic minorities, at serious risk of harm.

“We now believe that without urgent measures, the situation could escalate towards increasing conflict,” he said. “The widespread harassment of the population of GBAO by authorities including the police, security and military personnel appears increasingly systematic. These include wide-ranging forms of surveillance and invasions of privacy, arbitrary detention and the use of coercion to obtain signatures and/or public statements against the will of the individual.”

Since November security checkpoints have been reinforced, and hundreds of people who took part in the demonstrations have been arrested or banned from leaving the region. Clarke said the latest deaths marked renewed efforts to suppress the Pamiri.

“Authorities have reinstated a blockade on internet connection in the region and have again begun to arrest and detain prominent civil society leaders and independent individuals under the alleged pretext of an ‘anti-terror operation’,” he said.

“Pamiri people are not the terrorists. We are calling for urgent measures by Tajikistan authorities to de-escalate the developing conflict, by restoring and ensuring the respect for human rights in GBAO and most urgently call on authorities to release the activist Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva and others who have been detained and interrogated by security forces, without due process, as part of efforts to silence the voice of Pamiri activists.”

Since crackdowns on opposition groups in 2014 in Tajikistan, it is thought that 15 activists who left the country have disappeared in Russia or Turkey.

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Anne Frank: who gave her up to the Nazis? | International

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A book published in the Netherlands in January has caused a stir with it’s claim that a local Jewish notary was the one who revealed the annex in which Anne Frank and her family were hiding to the Nazis, whosubsequently deported the young girl, her sister, and their parents, to a concentration camp.

The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation, is authored by Canadian biographer and poet Rosemary Sullivan. The Betrayal recounts the work of a team made led by Dutch journalist Pieter van Twisk and including American Vince Pankoke, a former FBI agent It has been released throughout the world and encountered no problems, except for in the Netherlands where the publisher Ambo Anthos, withdrew it in February, apologizing “to anyone who was offended.”

The group set out to address the fate of Anne Frank as a cold case — an unsolved crime — and have used artificial intelligence and data processing as well as consulting a behavioral psychologist. They considered why a respected Jewish notary might have informed the Nazis of the Frank family’s hideout at 263 Prinsengracht in the Dutch capital. Over six years the team has ruled out about 30 suspects and scores of possibilities, attempting to fill gaps in information as time has elapsed.

Of the Frank family that had been hidden in the annex, only the father, Otto Frank, returned from the death camps. His daughter is a global icon, with her diary and her fate a symbol of innocence in tragedy.

Sullivan’s book says it is “almost certain” that the Dutch Jewish Council had a list of locations where people were in hiding, on which the Frank family’s may have been included.

The book notes that Arnold van den Bergh, a member of the Council, had contacts in high Nazi circles. So, “he could have given that list up at any time.”

To approach a cold case, one begins by reviewing all previous investigations for new clues. Speaking to EL PAÍS by phone, Vince Pankoke says that in this process one might speculate on what happened, and analyze the personality and biography of the suspects.

Pankoke says that, “we are not 100% sure,” the team found that van den Bergh was the most likely person to have triggered the raid in which Nazi police found the Franks.

“Although we cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt,” continues Pankoke, the team felt compelled to share their conclusions, because “it could have been a time bomb if discovered by anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi groups,” adding that the notary would have done so to save himself and his own family.

The speculation in the book has troubled several Dutch historians who specialize in the Holocaust and in the Dutch Jewish Council itself.

Bart van der Boom, a professor at the University of Leiden, says there is no evidence that the Council had the addresses of people in hiding.

Council members were respected people in the Jewish community, who “believed that opposing the Nazis would be much worse” than accepting the creation of the Council, a Nazi initiative.

“The idea that they would give a list to the Nazis is ridiculous,” says van der Boom.

“Jewish leaders did not decide who would be deported and they did not take charge of gathering people for it.” That suggestion, adds the professor, “is one of the numerous errors of the book.”

Van der Boom goes on to say that the Dutch Jewish Council “was criticized by everyone after the war for collaborating with the occupier, and there were Nazis who tried to blame it to save themselves.”

In the book, van der Boom says that the cold case team points to a German translator’s statement that they had heard the Council had the lists, and “that information is not credible.”

Indeed, in the historian’s expert opinion, the book is “an amateur work; all smoke and mirrors.”

Van der Boom has written to Rosemary Sullivan, in an appeal, he says, to her academic conscience. He tells EL PAÍS that Sullivan responded “that she trusts the research.”

Both van der Boom and his colleague, Bart Wallet, Professor of Jewish History at the University of Amsterdam, are particularly appalled at a sentence by the author in the English version.

After stating that van den Berg, who died in 1950, “saved his family by giving the Nazis addresses, including 263 Prinsengracht,” Sullivan writes: “Perhaps he also paid a price. He died of throat cancer. In a strange way, it was appropriate: he lost the ability to speak.”

Wallet states firmly that an academic peer review process would not have permitted the book to be published in its current form.

Pieter van Twisk, the Dutch journalist, admits that the team expected criticism, especially in the Netherlands.

“I was not prepared, however, for the toxic atmosphere [that has been] created,” says van Twisk.

“We were not [deliberately] looking for a Jewish traitor, as has been suggested, and we believe that Otto Frank knew or suspected who ratted them out, because he said he did not want his children to suffer for it.”

“There are specialists who agree with us and do not dare to speak in order to preserve their reputation. It’s ridiculous.”

It also seems to van Twisk that the Dutch publisher Ambo Anthos has dropped the book for fear of a lawsuit by members of the van den Bergh family: “I didn’t want to go to court with victims of the Holocaust.”

Pankoke, for his part, indicates that the book “is Rosemary Sullivan’s interpretation of the interviews she did with us and the reports of our work. There is a difference between what she interprets and the investigation itself.”

At any rate, Pankoke notes, “collaboration with the Nazis and the fate of Anne Frank” is a highly sensitive topic in the Netherlands.

The other main piece of evidence presented in the work is an anonymous note about the betrayal, sent after the war to Otto Frank. The original has not been found, but a copy of the writing, known to academics, was among the documents of a Dutch police investigator, Arend van Helden, who investigated the matter between 1963 and 1964. The note says that Van den Bergh revealed the Franks’ hideout to the Nazis, and that the department that received the tip-off “had a list of addresses (of Jewish people in hiding) also provided by him.”

Forensic examination by Pankoke’s team confirmed that the copy “had come off Otto Frank’s typewriter a couple of years before 1959.”

The team explored whether “the note was taken seriously in its day and if the lead was good.”

After discovering “that due diligence, an adequate review, had not been applied to confirm the allegations,” Pankoke’s team deemed it a legitimate piece of evidence.

For Bart Wallet, the person who wrote it “misquotes the Nazi institutions, showing a lack of inside knowledge to make such a statement about the notary.”

Such notes, Wallet continues, were frequently sent between people after the war “as gossip, or to settle scores.”

In Wallet’s opinion, if the list of hidden Jews had existed, “we would be facing one of the greatest traitors of the war and it would have been known, preventing his return to civilian life.”

To all of the above, there are added doubts about the whereabouts of the notary after the beginning of 1944. Anne Frank and her family were found by the Nazis in August of that year. Pankoke points out that van den Bergh “was trying to go unnoticed or else he hid, because details are missing here.”

However, another Dutch historian has just found a wartime diary with an entry that places the notary in the town of Laren, near Amsterdam. Van den Bergh obtained the necessary documentation to pass himself off as only partly Jewish, and thus had freedom of movement. But a Nazi colleague who wanted his office had gotten that declaration annulled.

Due to this, and with his three daughters hidden since the end of 1943, the two historians consulted believe that van den Bergh and his wife went into hiding at the beginning of 1944, according to reports from his descendants in the 1970s, as the family had survived.

Regarding the response of historians in the Netherlands to the book, Pankoke suspects a case of “academic arrogance.”

“When historians don’t like our findings, they reject them. That the notary went into hiding does not prove that he did not give the lists to the Nazis before, or later.”

“In addition, academics state that he was a good person,” but, “I know from experience that decent people can do terrible things,” the former FBI agent concludes.

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