Anne Frank and her family were hidden in an annex at Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam for 761 days between 1942 and 1944 before an unknown informant betrayed them to the Nazi occupiers. Since then, a great deal has been written about Frank and her famous diary, including books speculating on who tipped off the Nazi authorities. However, little is known about the life of Elizabeth "Bep" Voskuijl, the youngest of the five Dutch people who hid the Frank family. Her story, and the trauma it inflicted on her family, is the subject of a new book, The Last Secret of the Secret Annex: The Untold Story of Anne Frank, Her Silent Protector, and a Family Betrayal (Simon & Schuster, May 16, 2023).

The book, a collaboration between journalist Jeroen De Bruyn and Bep's son Joop van Wijk-Voskuijl, examines Bep's role in supplying the Frank family with food and comfort while keeping her involvement a secret from everyone she knew. And they explore the possibility that Bep's sister, Nelly Voskuijl, may have been the one who leaked the Frank family's hideaway to the Nazis.

"The sister was more than a Nazi sympathizer,” Priscilla Painton, v-p and editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster, told PW. “She actually worked for the Luftwaffe in France and the Wehrmacht in Amsterdam and spent many of her formative years with the occupying soldiers."

While Painton says she doesn't believe the book's theory about Nelly Voskuijl is the final word on the subject of the betrayer, "I think they do a really good job of lining up the strong circumstantial evidence for the case.” But it wasn’t only naming the possible informant that convinced Painton to publish this book. “You have this remarkable story of how the family processed this tragedy over generations, and I don't think that has ever been written before,” she said. “Additionally, for the first time, you get a really intimate look at what happened inside the annex, as told not just by Anne herself. These are voices we've never heard before on a tragedy that everybody thinks they know completely."

The book fills out the story of Anne Frank by describing the impact the diary was having on the others in the annex. It was supposed to have been written in secret, but Anne confided in Bep. At one time, Bep warned Anne not to include so many details of intimate conversations they had about Bep’s love life or her family’s efforts to obtain food on the black market. If the diary were discovered and fell into Nazi hands, those passages could be very dangerous to the family. Eventually, she gave up on the warnings because they were to no avail. “All she could do was warn the other people in the Secret Annex that they’d better be careful: ‘You shouldn’t tell her so much. She writes everything down in her diary!’” van Wijk-Voskuijl writes in the book.

It was De Bruyn’s idea to write a book after he learned about Wijk-Voskuijl’s family story. "Eventually, as we dug deeper into the story together, bringing out all kinds of information and emotional, buried family memories, we decided to write the book together,” he said. Van Wick-Voskuijl, 73, told PW, one of their goals was to show how war causes inherited family trauma.

The book also examines how Anne Frank's death affected Bep, including Bep's suicide attempt after the war. Writing the book was difficult, Wick-Voskujil said, because "nearly every subject, anecdote, and small remembrance of my mother was full of emotion." Among all his siblings, he was the only one who was able to talk about their family’s trauma. “All my siblings confessed later that they didn’t learn to speak about real problems. I really don’t know if they have second-generation trauma. However, what is in a name?”

The authors said they hope that the book will help to combat rising levels of antisemitism and Holocaust denial. A recent survey found that a quarter of Dutch millennials and Gen Z believe that the Holocaust was a myth or exaggerated, and over half of the respondents did not name the Netherlands as among the places where the Holocaust occurred.

De Bruyn suggested that the decline in firsthand witnesses and survivors of the Holocaust is contributing to this lack of knowledge. "Many Holocaust survivors used to speak in schools and share their stories, which was very impactful. I had a survivor come and speak at my high school, and it certainly made a greater impression than just reading a book or learning dates and facts about the Holocaust in history class."

Painton called the book "a perfect testament to how the work of history never ends. Every generation gets a chance to look again and take us deeper, and I think that's what's happening here."