This Former G-Man Is Using 21st-Century AI to Crack the 20th Century's Coldest Cold Case: Who Betrayed Anne Frank and Her Family?

Growing up, I'm betting most of us read all or at least part of "The Diary of Anne Frank."

The book - an account kept by the teenaged Anne of the two years she and her family spent in hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Amsterdam, Netherlands - is an acclaimed account of World War II and is on many lists of the most important books of the 20th century.

It was translated from the original Dutch into more than five dozen languages and has been adapted into plays, radio dramas, documentaries, and a Hollywood movie.

The diary also points to one of the great unsolved mysteries of the era: Just who was it that betrayed Anne and seven other Jews who were hiding in the "secret annex" behind a hinged bookcase in an unassuming Amsterdam office building?

Or was the discovery and arrest of those eight people just bad luck?

Either way, the 1944 discovery was disastrous: All eight were arrested and taken to concentration camps, where all but one - Anne's father, Otto - would die before the camps were liberated.

Now, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent hopes to solve the 74-year-old mystery - helped by one of the most advanced technologies available today.

I'm talking about artificial intelligence (AI).

I wanted to share this story with you for one very good reason.

AI is one of those technologies whose complexity makes it a real challenge to "get your head around."

But it's also an incredibly powerful innovation - meaning it's a technology that you, as an investor, have to buy into.

And this saga - about as important and meaningful as you'll find - is also a tale that will help you understand just what AI actually is.

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The World's Dearest Diary

Annelies Marie "Anne" Frank was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1929. She lived most of her life in Amsterdam - where her family moved when she was four and a half, after the Nazis came to power in Germany.

Otto made several attempts to get visas to get his family out of Europe (his widowed mother, Alice, had fled to Switzerland in 1933), but when Germany occupied the Netherlands in May 1940, the Frank family was essentially trapped.

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From that point on, restrictions escalated in a terrifying fashion.

Despite being a German national by birth, Nazi laws stripped Anne and her family of their citizenship. She became "stateless."

Anne Frank

Her father, Otto, ran the Dutch operation of the spice and pectin manufacturer Opekta out of a building at 263 Prinsengracht, in Amsterdam. Frank transferred control to make it appear "more Aryan."

On June 12, 1942 - Anne's 13th birthday - she received from her parents a special gift, a red plaid diary.

She used it to put down what she saw, thought, and felt - confiding to an imaginary friend named "Kitty" and, as it turned out, recording for the millions who would read her words what was happening to her "stateless" family.

"I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone," Anne wrote in her first entry, "and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support."

The diary has done just that - for millions of people across seven decades. Anne chronicled the escalation of anti-Semitism in her own small corner of Nazi-occupied Europe in a way that only a firsthand observer could.

Anne kept writing - especially after her family went into hiding in July 1942, just a month after her birthday. Nazi persecutions of Jews had surged, and Otto Frank feared for his family. They moved into a group of rooms behind that hinged bookcase - really an actherhuis - a "secret annex" - at the back of Opekta's building at 263 Prinsengracht.

Anne Frank

And that's where they lived for the next two years - the risks, intrigue, and terror all chronicled in Anne Frank's red plaid diary.

Her writings betrayed her youth, but showed a clever side, too. She assigned pseudonyms to all the folks hiding with her. German refugee Friedrich "Fritz" Pfeffer, a 50-something dentist who had a contentious relationship with Anne, was referred to as "Albert Dussel" or "Mr. Dussel" - a name that translates to "Mr. Goof."

A great piece from back in October by Washington Post writer Cleve R. Wootson, Jr., details the risks the family faced every single day.

"Anne Frank's Amsterdam was a maze of danger for the eight hiding Jews," Wootson wrote. "The annex where they lived could be seen easily from several nearby homes. A curtain accidentally left open or a loud noise at the wrong time could lead to discovery. They relied on counterfeit food-ration coupons to stay alive, operations that involved sympathetic collaborators and were heavily scrutinized by police. Dutch officers were paid for every Jew they turned over to the Nazis... they leaned heavily and sometimes violently on people suspected of helping Jews avoid the Nazis."

In short, the odds on the Franks' ultimate survival were mighty long indeed.

The long odds finally caught up with the "Hidden Eight" - the Frank family and the others in hiding with them: They were found on a summer day in 1944, arrested, and sent to concentration camps. By the time the war ended, all but Otto were dead.

Anne and her older sister, Margot, both died of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. No one is certain of the exact date, only that it was in February 1945.

Anne Frank

The British "Black Bull" 11th Armored Division hit the gates of the hell of Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945.

The camp was liberated barely two months after Anne died... aged just 15 years.

Otto Frank spent the rest of his life trying to figure out who tipped off the Nazis.

He passed in Switzerland in 1980, the mystery that consumed him unsolved.

And so began "one of the biggest cold cases in history," says retired FBI agent Vince Pankoke.

Pankoke is one heck of an experienced cop.

He's nabbed Wall Street white collar "Big Finance" criminals and violent Colombian drug cartels alike.

Now, Pankoke is trying to crack the Frank case. Were the inhabitants of the secret annex betrayed... or had their luck, always running against long odds, simply run out?

And he's using AI technology to help him answer the question.

This Is the Easiest Way to Understand AI (No Computer Science Degree Needed)

Let's face it: Technology just keeps increasing in complexity. Indeed, the "convergence economy" we talk about all the time here - where two or more technologies intersect to create a wholly new invention, product, or business sector - just exacerbates that complexity.

I've likened that dynamic to the innovation equivalent of a mathematical equation where 1 + 1 = 10.

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Remember, the PC was just a really cool "personal productivity device" - until it was linked into the high-speed networks of the Internet. That created new innovations like servers, streaming video, digital payments, and cloud storage.

For a guy like me - an analyst/stockpicker/writer whose job it is to identify these trends, find ways to profit from them, and then explain it to folks in a way that makes it all accessible - this "convergence economy" makes life quite the challenge.

That's why - instead of relying on gobbledygook jargon to tell you about such advances as Big Data or AI - it's easier to find stories that will show you how these inventions can be put to use.

Stories like the Anne Frank cold case...

...which I can use to help explain the powerful potential offered by Big Data and AI.

The Cold Case "I-Team"

Otto Frank would have loved to have this technology to work with.

Hermine "Miep" Gies, a family friend and Opekta employee who'd been helping the refugees, had discovered Anne's diary in the annex following the arrest of the Hidden Eight.

Gies figured, not unreasonably, that the precious document would be confiscated and destroyed by the Nazis, so she held it in secret.

Anne Frank

Miep always intended to return it to Anne, but of course, she could not. When told of Anne's death after the war, by which time the danger had passed, she gave it to Otto, saying "this is your daughter's legacy."

He published his daughter's diary... and then set to work trying to determine who'd betrayed them.

As surprising as it might seem, the betrayer shouldn't have been hard to determine - the Nazis kept meticulous records - but these records had been destroyed in a bombing.

According to the Post's Wootson, investigations in 1947 and 1963 turned up nothing - though, as part of the latter, the still-alive Otto said he suspected Willem van Maaren, a recently hired employee who hadn't been told about the secret bookcase. You see, van Maaren was suspicious - and was known for setting "traps" to discover folks who might be in the offices after business hours.

Other amateur sleuths, through the decades, have zeroed in on such potential betrayers as Anton "Tonny" Ahlers, a Dutch small-time-crook-turned-Nazi and informant to the Amsterdam Gestapo, and perhaps also the wife of an employee who helped the Frank family hide.

Other theorists (including a recent study by the Anne Frank House itself) say the Franks and the other refugees were discovered because of plain-old bad luck, that their capture may have been incidental to a larger Gestapo investigation into counterfeit ration coupons.

With the loss of documents, the passage of time, and the deaths of all the firsthand witnesses, it would seem to be "game over."

But Pankoke doesn't think so.

Stating that "there is no statute of limitations on the truth," the former FBI agent has teamed up with a Dutch production company known as Proditione Media BV to investigate this cold case.

In addition to the 20-person team - an association of researchers, journalists, genealogists, technologists, historians and others - the team will rely on a piece of AI/data analytics software that can scan, correlate, and assess millions of documents in a search for new investigative "leads."

The team will start with police reports, the writings of the Frank family and their helpers, Nazi records, notes from German spies, and other historical records - a process it refers to as "testimonial reconstruction," and something that's only possible with powerful AI computers.

"There is, of course, all possible types of administration done by the Germans of the time," Thijs Baynes, the filmmaker behind the project, told The Guardian. "And there is an even bigger circle of circumstantial evidence. What [Dutch Nazi party] members were in the neighborhood? What connections were with the Gestapo? Where were Gestapo agents living? To find that kind of information you have to go through millions of documents."

Anne Frank

And there are plenty of other places still to look, too. Reams of documents were shipped here to America and later transferred to microfilm. Scanning and analyzing them manually would take years, if not forever. But AI software can do this much more quickly, while also establishing the connections that different workers toiling in different locations might fail to see.

Indeed, the computer - created by Dutch Big Data player Xomnia BV- can process in seconds the amount of information that would take a man or woman a decade to get through.

"Xomnia is building an information storage and retrieval system that allows the researchers to record any information they find in the historical archives," said Xomnia Chief Data Scientist Marius Helf. "Our software allows them to search the data and visualize it new ways. This has already led to a few new traces. In the future, we plan to make the systems more intelligent, in the sense that it will be able to automatically connect persons, events, and places. We hope that this way we can find important and new clues to understand what actually happened in the weeks preceding the arrest of the Anne Frank family on Aug. 4, 1944, and eventually be able to identify the traitor with high confidence."

Proditione is also seeking help from others around the world - and has asked folks with information or unpublished documents to submit them through its website.

"The bottom line is until this day, there is nothing that's really held water or been definitive," Pankoke told the Post. "The point of the investigation is fact-finding just to discover the truth."

I don't know what chip Xomnia is using in its cold case computer. But I do know that AI is gaining traction - and the technology's uses are limited only by the creativity of the folks who are seeking to apply it.

Here today, I've done more than just "tell" that story. With the cold case tale of Anne Frank, we've showed you the huge potential of that opportunity.

And we're going to do even more.

We're next going to show you one of my two favorite AI plays. Keep an eye out.

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About the Author

Before he moved into the investment-research business in 2005, William (Bill) Patalon III spent 22 years as an award-winning financial reporter, columnist, and editor. Today he is the Executive Editor and Senior Research Analyst for Money Morning at Money Map Press.

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