AI Spotlight: Solving Anne Frank’s Betrayal with Artificial Intelligence

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One of the biggest cold cases of the 21st Century is the case of who betrayed Anne Frank and her family to the Nazis during World War II.  Anne Frank’s family and another family famously hid in a secret annex for two years before they were given away by an unknown person to the Gestapo.  The Nazis found them and they were sent to concentration camps.  Anne died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and famously wrote a diary documenting her experience hiding from the Nazis.  Her father Otto was the lone survivor of the group of eight hiders.  Otto was able to piece together much of what happened and had Anne’s diary published.  Yet, the Frank family, and many other families who suffered in the holocaust, thought they would never know who betrayed them.  Artificial Intelligence (AI) may be a tool that can help solve this mystery.

This case, along with a few others, is strange for a number of reasons.  First, the Nazis were known for keeping detailed records of everything that transpired before and during the Holocaust and World War II.  They offered rewards to people who told them where any Jewish people were hiding and noted who these rewards went to.  Therefore, it would stand that there would be a record of who gave away Anne’s family along with other records that could allude to it.  However, most of the records that would have been kept about the Frank family had been destroyed in a bombing. Second, many of these records have traveled to various countries and museums, so acquiring and sorting through all of them becomes a challenge.  This is where AI comes in as a useful tool.

A former FBI Investigator, Vince Pankoke, and a team of researchers and data analysts have committed to solving this case.  Pankoke is partnering with data company Xomnia.  Xomnia’s AI platform sifts through the millions of documents of data about the Nazis for new information.  Additionally, it identifies patterns in seemingly innocuous data that might be able to pinpoint new suspects and information that could pertain to other investigations.

So far, Pankoke’s investigation has not been able to determine who betrayed Anne Frank and her family to the Nazis, even though it has been able to identify the betrayer of at least one other family.  The investigation is only scratching the surface of how extensive the Nazi informant system was.  The AI has also created a map of Anne’s house in comparison to where Nazi informants and sympathizers lived hoping to provide a more narrowed scope for the investigation to continue.  Pankoke hopes that the AI combined with researchers and data analyst will be able to finally solve this mystery in the next few years.

As we’ve concluded in previous spotlights, the AI used by Xomnia and Pankoke is not a displacement for human work.  Rather, it is a tool used to supplement the investigators and historians, a concept SIIA touched on in its issue brief on AI and the future of work.    The volume of remaining documents is in the millions and must be meticulously combed to find the pertinent data to conclude this investigation.  For these reasons, using AI would be far more effective than just having humans comb through this data in search of a “needle in a haystack.”

Millions of Jewish people perished in the Holocaust, leaving their family and friends searching for closure several decades later.  In the case of who betrayed Anne Frank and her family, there were a few different suspects that have not been verified.  This case showcases AI’s investigatory potential where there may not be a lot of direct information that points to an answer, rather there is a lot of indirect information.  These tools display immense promise for solving cold cases and helping law enforcement and other investigators in the future. 

Diane Diane Pinto is the Public Policy Coordinator at SIIA. Follow the Policy team on Twitter @SIIAPolicy.