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The Last Secret of the Secret Annex

The Untold Story of Anne Frank, Her Silent Protector, and a Family Betrayal


About The Book

A riveting historical investigation and family memoir that intertwines the iconic narrative of Anne Frank with the untold story of Bep Voskuijl, her protector and closest confidante in the Annex, bringing us closer to understanding one of the great secrets of World War II.

Anne Frank’s life has been studied by many scholars, but the story of Bep Voskuijl has remained untold, until now. As the youngest of the five Dutch people who hid the Frank family, Bep was Anne’s closest confidante during the 761 excruciating days she spent hidden in the Secret Annex. Bep, who was just twenty-three when the Franks went into hiding, risked her life to protect them, plunging into Amsterdam’s black market to source food and medicine for people who officially didn’t exist under the noses of German soldiers and Dutch spies. In those cramped quarters, Bep and Anne’s friendship bloomed through deep conversations, shared meals, and a youthful understanding.

Told by her own son, The Last Secret of the Secret Annex intertwines the story of Bep and her sister Nelly with Anne’s iconic narrative. Nelly’s name may have been scrubbed from Anne’s published diary, but Joop van Wijk-Voskuijl and Jeroen De Bruyn expose details about her collaboration with the Nazis, a deeply held family secret. After the war, Bep tried to bury her memories just as the Secret Annex was becoming world famous as a symbol of resistance to the Nazi horrors. She never got over losing Anne nor could Bep put to rest the horrifying suspicion that those in the Annex had been betrayed by her own flesh and blood.

This is a story about those caught in between the Jewish victims and Nazi persecutors, and the moral ambiguities and hard choices faced by ordinary families like the Voskuijls, in which collaborators and resisters often lived under the same roof.

Beautifully written and unsettlingly suspenseful, The Last Secret of the Secret Annex will show us the Secret Annex as we’ve never seen it before. And it provides a powerful understanding of how historical trauma is inherited from one generation to the next and how sometimes keeping a secret hurts far more than revealing a shameful truth.


Prologue: A Letter from Belgium PROLOGUE A Letter from Belgium
This project did not begin as an investigation into the darkest corners of the Secret Annex. It began with a letter sent to me in 2009 by a fifteen-year-old boy in Antwerp named Jeroen De Bruyn. Like millions of other children, Jeroen had been touched by Anne Frank’s diary, which his mother first read to him when he was just six years old.

By any measure, Jeroen had been a curious and unusually mature child. As soon as he was able to understand that the world had once been at war, he asked his mother for details. She told him the stories that she had heard growing up—about neighbors forced to wear yellow stars and V2 rockets exploding on the streets of Antwerp. The next question was something that children always ask and adults often forget to: Why?

His mother had no real answer, so she turned to one of the most famous documents from that time, Het Achterhuis (The Annex), known in English as The Diary of a Young Girl. Some people will probably think that Jeroen was too young to be exposed to such a difficult text, but I believe we tend to underestimate what children are capable of understanding or expressing—as Anne’s diary demonstrates so powerfully. Besides, Jeroen’s mother didn’t read him the whole diary, just excerpts, carefully avoiding the most upsetting passages.

Jeroen was fascinated. He spent hours staring at the black-and-white pictures of the swinging bookcase and the tiny, cramped confines of the Secret Annex. He could not wrap his little mind around why whole families, even young children, needed to hide like mice to avoid being killed. He started asking his mother more questions about the war, and in time she brought him other children’s books on the subject. When Jeroen got a little older, he began checking out books on the Holocaust from the library himself. His parents thought his budding interest was a bit strange, yet they were open-minded liberal Europeans, more inclined to explain the harsh reality of the world than to hide it from view.

In time, the children’s books and animated movies were replaced with thick histories and grainy documentaries. The stories and pictures became more explicit, more terrible. By age twelve, Jeroen had seen every available film about the Holocaust—Claude Lanzmann’s nine-hour documentary Shoah made the greatest impression on him—and he had read every book he could find about Anne Frank. The more Jeroen learned, the less he understood. How could it have happened on the same placid, tree-lined streets that he walked down every day? How was it that his grandmother, the same woman who sent him silly text messages, could have seen it all with her own eyes? Neighbors rounded up. Swastikas on the streets. The city in flames.

Jeroen’s grandmother was also named Anne. She was born the same year as Anne Frank—1929—and during World War II lived for a time with her grandparents only half a mile from the Frank family apartment in Amsterdam South. In the early days of the Occupation, she fell in love with a Jewish boy named Louis. Though he managed to slip out of the Nazis’ grasp by hiding in the Dutch countryside, most of his family was murdered at the Sobibor death camp in eastern Poland, where a staggering thirty-four thousand Dutch Jews were killed in approximately five months between March and July 1943. Was it that grandmother, Anne—the same age, same city, same name—who kindled Jeroen’s obsession with Anne Frank? Because that was what it turned into: an obsession, a need to know everything that had happened inside the Secret Annex.

Jeroen printed out hundreds of articles, made scrapbooks, spent his school vacations in Amsterdam at the Anne Frank House. He bought a scholarly edition of the diary and pored over the footnotes. His teacher thought his “research,” the expanding set of files he created on every aspect of the case, was just the idle hobby of a schoolboy with too much time on his hands; it wouldn’t amount to anything. Yet Jeroen was enterprising, even as a teenager, and he could read between the lines. He was interested not only in what was known about the case but also what was unknown or misunderstood. He began to focus on the people who had guarded the Secret Annex, those who had risked their lives to keep Anne and her family safe for 761 days—until, not long before the Liberation, they were all mysteriously betrayed.

From his reading, Jeroen realized that three of the “helpers,” as they are known in Dutch, had already been studied extensively: they had given copious interviews, written their own memoirs, or had been the subjects of books and documentaries. Yet there was another helper, who happened to be the youngest, about whom next to nothing was known. The usual explanation for why there was such scant information about this helper was that she was shy and self-effacing by nature and had played only a minor role in the drama of the Secret Annex. But Jeroen could see, based on the evidence, that none of that was true.

In fact, he was beginning to suspect that the youngest helper may have been the most important to Anne. She was her best friend and closest confidante. In the face of great danger, she had acted heroically. Yet for some reason that Jeroen could not figure out, she had spent her entire life after the war hiding from what she had done.

That person was my mother, Bep Voskuijl.

From the moment the Secret Annex was raided by the Gestapo on August 4, 1944, until her death on May 6, 1983, my mother actively avoided the subject of Anne Frank. She declined public recognition for her involvement in the case and refrained from talking about the role she had played with her closest family, even though she privately grieved the loss of her young friend, and would name her only daughter, Anne, in her memory. The reason for her avoidance had nothing to do with Bep’s unassuming nature, as had earlier been thought. Rather, Bep had been traumatized by what she had lived through, and she avoided attention because she had secrets she wanted to keep, secrets she intended to take with her to the grave.

Jeroen knew he had a story. The only problem: he was just fourteen. He could get only so far on a biography without the participation of Bep’s surviving family, the people who knew her and had access to whatever documents she had left behind. Yet he feared, correctly, that we would dismiss him because of his age and inexperience.

In 2008, Jeroen turned fifteen, the same age that Anne was when she died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Shortly after his birthday, he finally decided to approach my family. He couldn’t find a way to get in touch with us directly, so he wrote to Miep Gies, then the only surviving helper from the Secret Annex. Her son, Paul, fielded the request and sent it along to two of my siblings. They said they were not interested in talking about our mother and that, anyway, they had little to share about her. In his note, Jeroen had not mentioned his age and background, but after his first attempt failed, he decided to write us a longer letter, straight from the heart.

In five pages, he described his intentions, the documents he had found, and new facts he had put together, and then he asked for permission to interview us. He still could not bring himself to disclose his actual age, so he tacked on a few months and made himself sixteen. Then he mailed the letter to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, which forwarded it to me.

“I am a 16-year-old boy from Antwerp,” Jeroen’s letter began. “For a long time, I’ve been very interested in the story of Anne Frank.” Jeroen told of his fascination with the Secret Annex, how by degrees his focus had shifted from Anne to the helpers and then to my mother. He was amazed that “so little was known” about her. He said that he had “assembled a file” in which he was trying to “put the pieces of the puzzle together.” Each new fact he uncovered on a dusty reel-to-reel tape or in a newspaper archive made him feel “euphoric.” He felt that Anne had had a kind of double in my mother, a young guardian on the other side of the bookcase who had been a close friend, who had also fallen in love during the war, who had had her own fights with parents and siblings, who had spent the Occupation living in fear of being found out. Bep was still just a sketchy outline, but “bit by bit,” he said, “I am getting to know her better.”

I was skeptical of Jeroen’s youth, but I was immediately struck by his sincere desire to understand my mother. In a sense, I had spent my whole life wanting the same thing. Before I received that letter, no one had ever asked me about her role in the Anne Frank story. The outside world wasn’t aware of her past, and within the family we had an unspoken rule never to discuss what happened during the war.

Yet over the years my mother told me things that she kept from everyone else, even my father and my siblings. For a time, I was to my mother a bit like what she had been to Anne: a confidant and protector. But the twists of life had complicated our relationship; as close as I got to her, I never understood why, exactly, her experience tortured and haunted her the way it did.

I wrote Jeroen back and said that we should meet and that I would be happy to visit him at home in Antwerp to learn what he had discovered and discuss his proposed project. I traveled with my wife, Ingrid, from our home in the eastern Netherlands. Jeroen struck me as earnest, sweet, and intensely focused. He had covered his parents’ kitchen table with books, all heavily annotated with yellow Post-it notes, and he created a detailed outline for our conversation. He had just found a rare recording of an interview Bep had given on a visit to Canada in the late 1970s. He played the tape for me, and it was the first time I had heard my mother’s voice in more than three decades.

I couldn’t escape the feeling that that meeting with Jeroen was almost preordained. I had carried around my mother’s secrets for years, and only now did I realize that I was waiting for an opportunity to share them, to make sense of them, or—as Jeroen put it—to put the pieces of the puzzle together. We did not know that day that the process would take us more than a decade. I’m still not sure why I trusted that teenager with my family’s secrets or why I told him things that had been buried long before. Perhaps there was something about his youth that disarmed me.

In any case, I told him that I would help him however I could. I didn’t expect my other family members to follow suit, but when I contacted each of them, none was opposed to my participation. Of course they could not imagine then some of the uncomfortable conclusions the evidence would point us toward, the trail of betrayal we would uncover. Contrary to the illusions we had grown up with, the Voskuijls were not all that different from other families in wartime Amsterdam, in which resisters and collaborators often lived under the same roof.

In the beginning, I did not intend to be Jeroen’s coauthor but simply his guide: to share what I knew and open whatever doors I could. Yet it became clear as the story changed, expanded, and cut closer to the bone that Jeroen could not write it alone. We eventually decided, despite the differences in our ages and backgrounds, to become partners in the project. For the sake of clarity, and to better convey my firsthand experience of growing up in the shadow of the Secret Annex, we would write the book in my voice. But it is just as much Jeroen’s story as mine. Having watched him grow up from a precocious teenager into an accomplished journalist, I look back on our work together feeling a bit like a proud father. And this gets to the heart of what our book is ultimately about: though we talk about war and the Holocaust, about collaboration and betrayal, there is no other way of describing this book than as a family story. And as my mother knew well, there are two kinds of family bonds: one forged by birth, the other by circumstance.

Joop van Wijk-Voskuijl

Heemstede, the Netherlands

March 2023

About The Authors

Joop van Wijk-Voskuijl is the third of Bep Voskuijl’s four children. He was born in 1949 in Amsterdam. After a successful career as a video producer (creating corporate movies for major Dutch companies) and marketing manager (for newspapers such as NRC Handelsblad and Algemeen Dagblad), Joop retired in 2010 to pursue research and writing with the goal of telling his mother’s story. He also volunteers as a guest lecturer, teaching Dutch schoolchildren and other groups about Anne Frank, the Holocaust, and the resistance during World War II.

Jeroen De Bruyn was born in 1993 in Antwerp. At age fifteen—the same age as Anne when she died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp—Jeroen began doing original research on the Secret Annex. He got to know the Anne Frank House firsthand during an internship there in 2011. He went on to study journalism, subsequently contributing to prominent Flemish news magazines like Knack and Joods Actueel, and working as a senior editor for the major Belgian newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 16, 2023)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982198213

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Raves and Reviews

"Part biography and part whodunit, The Last Secret of the Secret Annex is, above all, a bereaved son’s cri de coeur, simultaneously mourning and celebrating the mother he lost even before she died."Wall Street Journal

''An important contribution to the literature on Anne Frank."Kirkus Reviews

[A] superbly well-written, intimate, engrossing, and heartrending reckoning with the endless damage done by genocide.Booklist (Starred)

"The unspeakable tragedy of Anne Frank will never lose its haunting power over successive generations. This gripping account adds a missing human dimension to the story of the young girl hidden in an attic during the Nazi occupation of Holland-and those who helped and those who betrayed her. I read it in one gulp--as will you."—KATI MARTON, author of The Chancellor

"This book, as much a work of painful family therapy as painstaking historical analysis, throws unexpected light on the people who protected Anne Frank and perhaps on the one who betrayed her. A riveting read."—PETER HAYES, author of Why? Explaining the Holocaust

"It took a network of courageous helpers to allow Anne Frank and her family to hide for as long as they did from the Nazis. It only took one person to betray them. This is a book that not only offers tantalizing new clues about their betrayer; it also sheds new light on the least known helper in a saga that encapsulates the tragedy of the Holocaust."—ANDREW NAGORSKI, author of Saving Freud: The Rescuers Who Brought Him to Freedom

"This powerful story brings to life Bep's heroism and illuminates generations of a Dutch family, its secrets, and the trauma the Nazi occupation bequeathed to the future."—PAMELA S. NADELL, author of America's Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today

"For long, the story of Bep Voskuijl, one of Anne Frank's courageous helpers, has been mostly kept in the dark. This captivating book tells her moving and tragic story, her wartime assistance in the Secret Annex, and the long shadows of the war on her life and her family's. The book distinguishes clearly between facts and possible interpretations."—DR. BART WALLET, professor of early modern and modern Jewish history at the University of Amsterdam

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