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August 23rd, 2010
10:59 AM ET

Tree beloved by Anne Frank falls down

Editor's note: If you've got pictures of the historic Anne Frank tree send them to CNN I-report.  We'll post some of the best ones.  Here's an early submission.

A chestnut tree beloved by Holocaust victim Anne Frank as she wrote her diary in hiding in the Netherlands fell down Monday, the Anne Frank House museum told CNN. The tree, which was more than 150 years old, had been diseased since 2005 and had a support structure to help keep it upright.

But it fell early Monday afternoon, Anne Frank House representative Maatje Mostart said. "It's a pity. It's an important tree," she said. "Anne Frank looked down on it from her hiding place. It was the only piece of nature she could see." "Something went wrong with the support," she added. "Happily it fell the right way. It didn't fall on the secret annex or on a person, so that was a relief for us."

Frank, a teenage girl whose diary of her time in hiding during World War II was published after she died in the Holocaust, mentions the tree three times in her writings. "Our chestnut tree is in full bloom. It's covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year," she wrote in May 1944, shortly before she and her family were discovered and deported to concentration camps.

Since the tree was found to be diseased, hundreds of saplings grown from its chestnuts have been donated to schools and parks around the world, the Anne Frank Museum said.

Frank admired the tree from the attic window of the secret annex where her family hid for two years, before being betrayed. "From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind," she wrote on February 23, 1944. "As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be."

The spring before her family and the others hiding with them were captured, the girl focused on the tree's budding life - and her own.
"Our chestnut tree is already quite greenish and you can even see little blooms here and there," she wrote on April 18, 1944. Two days earlier, she'd recorded her first kiss.

Frank died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen just weeks before the Nazi concentration camp was liberated in 1945. But her name, story and message live on through her diary and, also, through her ailing tree. A fungus had left two-thirds of it hollow, said Anne Frank House spokeswoman Annemarie Bekker. A battle began in late 2007 between city officials who wanted to chop it down and activists who insisted it should stay.

But a court injunction, a second-opinion analysis and a committee mobilization left it standing until Monday, barely alive and supported by steel. The tree was a horse chestnut, which is often called a buckeye tree in the United States and a conker tree in the United Kingdom. Through a project and contest launched last year by the Anne Frank Center USA, a New York-based educational nonprofit working with the museum in Amsterdam, 11 sites in the United States will see Frank's tree blossom. They range from the White House and various museums and memorials to a high school that changed U.S. history. A handful of winning applications were driven by youth inspired by Frank– who would be 80 if she'd survived - and her diary.

One girl in Boston, Massachusetts,12-year-old Aliyah Finkel, felt an immediate connection to the writer, so much so that she chose to have her bat mitzvah - the coming of age ceremony for Jewish girls - in the synagogue Frank's family attended in Amsterdam before they went into hiding. "It wasn't just a diary written by some person, it was written by a 13-year-old girl," Finkel said. "I was interested in the story of her life. She had so much hope. There are some parts [of the diary] that are really sad, but it's more inspiring." With the help of her family, and contacts they have with local officials, Finkel's inspired push will bring a tree to Boston Common and lessons about tolerance to the city's public schools.

Farther South, a public school in Arkansas, the only one in the nation to become a national historic site, will also see an Anne Frank tree bloom. Little Rock Central High School senior John Allen Riggins, 17, heard about the contest last summer while listening to National Public Radio. His school was racially integrated in 1957 by the "Little Rock Nine," a development that proved a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights movement. An avid follower of history and politics, Riggins saw parallels between Anne Frank's legacy and that of the Arkansas students. "From all across the world, in different time periods and different social struggles, young people have been caught up in history and these social tensions have come down upon them," Riggins said. "Anne Frank was 14 when she was hiding, and the youngest of the nine was 14."

For Elaine Leeder, it was in many ways her father's youth, and by extension her own, that made her reach out for a part of the tree. The dean of social sciences at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California, Leeder is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Her father lost his mother, sister and brother when they were taken to a pit outside their Lithuanian village and gunned down along with about 2,000 other Jews. "The shades were always drawn in my house. We were afraid of neighbors," she said, describing the legacy she carried. "I became a genocide scholar over the years because of my personal story."

The sapling she competed for will be nurtured in the university's Holocaust Camp; Genocide Memorial Grove, where genocides across time are remembered. Beside it will be a sign quoting Frank: "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." Much of what his daughter wrote came as a surprise to Otto Frank, the family's sole survivor. He retrieved the diary and eventually published it after World War II. More than 30 million copies have been sold.

In a speech he gave in 1968, according to the Anne Frank House, he spoke of the reactions he had upon first reading his daughter's words. "How could I have suspected that it meant so much to Anne to see a patch of blue sky, to observe the gulls during their flight and how important the chestnut tree was to her, as I recall that she never took an interest in nature," he said. "But she longed for it during that time when she felt like a caged bird."

It turns out the saplings selected for sites in the United States are caged themselves. When they arrived in the country in December, the young trees were seized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Because of sicknesses ravaging horse chestnuts in Europe, the trees will remain in quarantine for three years.

But even as the original tree finally falls, pieces of it are growing strong, reaching for blue skies and welcoming birds across the globe - a living legacy to a girl who understood what life could promise.

Editor's Note: Belief Blog contributor Jess Ravitz posted an indepth look at the tree earlier. Check it out here

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Europe • Judaism

soundoff (326 Responses)
  1. CatchMe

    Move on idiots, move on. For how long are you going to cry about the past. Yes, it is history, we did learn a lot from it. Do you cry that Ab Lincoln was killed when you read history ?

    August 23, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
    • Luke

      Who is Ab Lincoln?

      August 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
    • summarex

      Well said
      I am tired of holocaust theatre

      August 23, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  2. rick

    The Vatican have laundered stolen Jewish gold, aided the nazis and hidden Roman Catholic SS members from the allies in catholic churches in South America.The Vatican had its fingers in that pie big time. Hitler was a Catholic, as was Himmler. Hitler referred to Himmler as "our Ignatius of Loyola." The Jews that the Vatican hid were actually Jews who had converted to Catholicism.

    August 23, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
    • summarex

      Rick
      Get it through your head. We Catholics are not required to provide aid and assistance to any of you. We don't owe you anything.

      August 23, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
    • Luke

      summarex – Then why claim to be the moral authority of all human beings if you owe us nothing?

      August 23, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
    • summarex

      Luke:
      Assisting Zionists is not a requirement for being a moral authority on anything. In fact, the opposite is true. So take your shaming tactics someplace else.

      August 23, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
    • sheppard

      right, summa – spoken like a true Christian. If you are a Christian, you owe anything & everything to everyone. Kind of the core of following Christ's church...

      August 23, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
    • FelipeBR

      Religious Nuts all of you.

      August 23, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
    • E

      Hitler was certainly not a catholic once he took power, and by most standards he should not really be called a Christian. Hitler had not gone to mass, nor attended confession for years prior to seizing power in 1933. As if this isn't enough for excommunication from the Catholic church, Hitler and Goebbels, created the Nazi Party's own church, which as we know from the protestant reformation, is not ok with the Catholic Church. This in no way excuses the Vatican's attitude of appeasement, but to be sure, Hitler was not a Catholic, or was one by name only.

      August 23, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
    • wlcade

      Summa, so destroying Zionists makes you a moral authority? The Catholic Church teaches love and demonizes envy, theft, and murder, which means that, according to their own "rules", they should not be aiding Nazis, taking Jewish possessions, and they should have stood openly against the hatred and murder of Jews. Clearly during that time, the Catholic Church was in the wrong, and that's a well acknowledged sentiment among both Catholics and non-Catholics. You just sound like a Nazi when you say that anti-Zionism makes you a moral authority.

      August 23, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
  3. Lee

    Sad to see all the negative comments here. I visited Amsterdam several years ago, and the most moving part of the trip was my visit to the Anne Frank House. I remember standing by that very tree and thinking about the hope it gave her. It's very disheartening to read some of the comments from such self-absorbed, hate-filled, bitter people. Maybe you should try reading her book; perhaps you'll appreciate your relatively easy American lives a little more and have some compassion and understanding of those who have really suffered.

    August 23, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
    • summarex

      The negative comments come from people who have been witnessing these theatrics for 70 years now and also been hearing about the atrocities being perpetratyed against the Palestinians by these "victims of hatred". So you'll forgive us if we're not grief stricken for the tree.

      August 23, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
    • Americangurl

      @Lee- Relatively easy american lives? Give me a break! We have 9.5% unemployment, People losing their homes, our economy sux and you call that easy? Try coming over here and finding a job and see just how hard it is! The only ones not suffering are the politicians and the crooks. (some one and the same) so until you've walked a mile on our shoes put a plug in your pie hole!

      August 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • Luke

      Americangurl – So by your calculations, 90.5% of the population in the USA are politicians and crooks. Methinks you need to restate your argument.

      August 23, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
    • Jina

      @Americangurl – yes, relatively easy American lives. You don't have to live in fear that, on any given day, people will barge into your house and arrest you because they don't like you, send you to a death camp, and torture and/or kill the people you love because they tried to help you survive.

      Since I was unemployed for almost a year last year, by your own standards, I guess I can tell you to pick up a history book (or better yet, Anne Frank's diary) and learn a bit about how relatively easy us Americans have it right now before you go spouting off here again.

      August 23, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
    • Shai

      again user "summarex" is all over this thread, if youre curious – this poster is an imposer, being paid by interests groups to be "smart" and antisemitic and plug in palestinian concepts wherever he can.
      its a good thing the real "smart" folks know what islam represents, and on the other hand what Judaism does.

      August 24, 2010 at 10:14 am |
  4. Elaine

    They should plant one of the saplings in the spot where the tree fell.

    August 23, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  5. what?

    Why is this a story? How many snipets can they print to try and keep the furnace of the Holocaust stoked? Why not print an article about a tree in Russia at the home of one of the 100 million ultimately killed or one of the tens of millions starved?

    August 23, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  6. Woody

    Some of you might also like to read on and go to http://www.friedl-story.com. Many stories about the war.

    August 23, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  7. summarex

    It's a good thing some nutty skinhead didn't chop it down. We would have been hearing about the murdered tree for 100 years.

    August 23, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
    • Shai

      now now summarex, dont forget to eat your cereal and hurry up, the bus is waiting, i think today at 4th grade they are going to teach about the linear relationship between racist sarcasm and deeply buried resentment to your half indian father.

      August 24, 2010 at 10:11 am |
  8. Pat

    Thanks Laura and Mike for some mature posts. If people under 10 weren't allowed to post, I bet half the frivilous posts would disappear.

    August 23, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
    • summarex

      Oh look everyone.
      Pat thinks that Laura and Mike's posts are mature while other peoples' posts aren't.
      I think Pat's post wreaks of cultural semitism.

      August 23, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  9. Jon

    When I was in Amsterdam I had the strong feeling that the Anne Frank house is more important as a tourist destination than anything else. When I was walking around and saw the statue of Anne Frank, a few soccer hoodlums came around and put their team stickers all over it. Just imagine what would happen if you saw some kids defacing the Vietnam Memorial or the upcoming 9/11 Ground Zero memorial. Freedom of Speech is one thing, but defacing memorials just crosses the line.

    August 23, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  10. Laura

    Why is everyone commenting on this story in such a horrible mood? Why is everyone fighting? This girl went through so many atrocities, most of which none of us posting here will EVER have to live through. Can't we all be happy that we are alive, that we have air to breathe and say something nice about the fact that this tree gave her something to live for? I honestly don't understand why everyone is on their rag today ~

    August 23, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
    • DaBeerGuy

      @Laura
      First since I am a male I do not believe the "rag" title applies to me
      Second I am in a horrible mood because I haven't had my morning "brew" yet!
      Third as per my mood I agree with Tom R- Its just a tree

      August 23, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
  11. stac123

    the lord knows what ia to become of our souls when we die .. he is in control , everyone will be dead one day .. the lord is god almighty and we only can use 10% of our brains who are we to question what happens and how it goes down,... I cant believe adults act so childish ..like the lord is ganna work how we want and expect him to ,,, O the lord let my child die I hate him... how ignorant / consider hardship and loss here on earth as a blessing just as we spank and repremand our children .. as does the lord do us out of love ,, ,... people grow up and get some wisdom ,... for only a fool sayeth there is no god ..

    August 23, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
  12. Mike

    To those who say it was just a tree, why is this news: Yes, this tree is significant because it represented life and hope to Anne Frank, and it was something that brought some normalcy to her life while she and her family were in hiding. It may outwardly be a tree like many others, but then again, it is unique in its symbolism and meaning because it is the very same tree that this young lady looked on with her own eyes while she was cooped up hiding from evil, and it uplifted her spirits, no matter the fate that ultimately awaited her.

    August 23, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  13. Tom R

    Its just a tree.

    August 23, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  14. JudenHunter

    Blame Bush

    August 23, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
    • sheppard

      OK!

      August 23, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  15. ah

    As said before.
    People are evil, not religion.
    There is no difference between Hitler and Stalin, both were evil.
    If one was religious, that does not prove that religion is evil.

    August 23, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
    • AustinBaby

      No, but "religious" people have done evil. That is why people say it is evil. The intention is good, but what man has twisted it to mean is evil.

      August 23, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
  16. rashid

    The Nazis may be gone, but other would do the same to Anne Frank without hesitation. She is an inspiration to keep fighting.

    August 23, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  17. John M

    The buckeye and the horse chestnut are two completely different trees. The Ohio buckeye is genus Aesculus glabra. The horse chestnut is Aesculus hippocastanum

    August 23, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  18. Woody

    A friend of mine has created the website http://www.altfrankfurt.com. In memory of the war . I hope it is O.K. to post this website !

    August 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    Damn you, global warming!!!

    August 23, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  20. John Walter

    The point of the story is that "As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be." It's all about TOLERANCE and you people obviously don't have it. Keep your hate to yourselves, don't feel you need to denigrate everyone else.

    August 23, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.