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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. DavidPA

    Its no coincidence that so many are in the south. I think Miss. also has the lowest educational scores. Maybe thats why they are number 1. These are the same bozos that give us losers like George Bush and the Moral Majority.

    August 23, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  2. ThThite

    I wish the tree would've fallen on a black person.

    August 23, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
    • Desert Sky

      Sorry,but your attempt at being a forum troll failed.

      August 23, 2010 at 9:04 pm |
  3. barry comer

    Something and someone so famous is introduced for the unknowing. How long will it be that she becomes an introduction to all?

    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.

    August 23, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
  4. Esther McCoy

    This is a really sad commentary. I feel sorry for all you sad patheric people who automatically blame everything on religion or God. Your world must be so small and sad. It shows, it really does.

    August 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
    • Luke

      Esther McCoy – No, actually my life is full of joy and happiness, and only after I rejected the god of the bible did I begin to see how wonderful life is. My wife and I are surrounded with love and smiles, dedicating our free time to education, charities, museums and aiding those around us. Perhaps I'm in the minority, but it is still counter to your opinion.

      August 23, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  5. peterman5000

    good job Obama!

    August 23, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
    • heidi

      again, this is the voice of an uneducated child

      August 23, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  6. G-man The Terps Fan

    It's a sad loss of a living connection to a brave and resilient young woman. I have no doubt that millions of people around the world will feel the same sadness I felt when I saw the headline. If you're not one of them and you don't care, keep your spoiled, nonsensical, American idiot, religilous thoughts to yourself - nobody needs them. Just because you CAN comment doesn't mean that you should open your mouth.

    August 23, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  7. Tiff

    Non of us will ever know one way or the other if God truely does exist.

    This girl was able to stay strong in a horrible situation due to her faith.. you cannot deny that..

    August 23, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  8. Jon

    I guess if the Parthenon fell down, it wouldn't be news worth either. It's "just a building", and it's days are past. But then of course, half you idiots have no idea what the Parthenon is anyway.

    August 23, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
    • Holly

      well said. (:

      August 23, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
    • Luke

      Shaq thought it was an arena he played basketball in. No...seriously. Check for yourself. While playing ball for the US in Europe, he thought he played there. Sigh.

      August 23, 2010 at 7:12 pm |
  9. John D.

    I guess if the Parthenon fell down, it wouldn't be news worth either. It's "just a building", and it's days are past. But then of course, half you idiots have no idea what the Parthenon is anyway.

    August 23, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
  10. Patricia Stewart

    I'm shocked that their government didn't plan at all for the fall of the tree. They should have immediately cut the tree in as many pieces as necessary, moved it to a secure spot and then sent notice to the Holocaust museums throughout the world. I'm sure they would have been glad to receive a piece to display in honor of Anne Frank's sacrifice. Also, they should plant a new chestnut tree in the same spot as a 'gift' to Anne's enduring spirit. Very upsetting that people are just passing by and chipping away at the tree.

    August 23, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
  11. Scooty

    I love that tree!

    August 23, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  12. Bobby

    Who cares? It was just a tree....this story is just about publicity.

    August 23, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
    • heidi

      just a tree? ok, all of these people making their sick stupid comments, have you heard of the westboro church? you all get appalled by the things that church says, then you run here and say things to get a reaction out of people too...there are a lot of people on here who are no better than the people of the westboro church, keep that in mind as you write your childish stuff. most of you are writing this stuff just to get attention

      August 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  13. John

    What's up with all the religion and God comments.. The Jews were killed because of money... The tree was kept standing because of money... I'd even suspect people made money selling the "seeds" and "saplings" from the tree... Money is the root of all evil....

    August 23, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
    • Tiff

      Aint that the truth!

      August 23, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
  14. Pete

    Well I'll be in Amsterdam next week and though I won't have much time there, I was going to play taking a walk by the house. I have heard line ups could be long, so at least seeing the tree that she had written about would have been something. Unfortunately I guess that won't be happening. Things like the tree are special as it was something that was living right in the time she had. So it makes the whole WWII event, seem not that long ago in terms of things...

    August 23, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  15. Hogan

    The tree should have been chopped down after Anne's death. Its represents the death of the Nazi party

    August 23, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
  16. Mike

    P.S. Please don't confuse me with the Mike that told the lame AIDS joke.

    August 23, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  17. Mike

    Ahh...it's funny how on the Belief Blog, the comment board is full of atheists trying to convince people God doesn't exist. My irony meter is about to explode. Atheists are the most dogmatic people on the planet.

    August 23, 2010 at 4:02 pm |
    • Zena

      I am greateful 'he' does exist... who would keep most of the people in check!

      August 23, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
    • ImpudentRadish

      @Mike

      You have an irony meter? How ironic! So do I!
      Do you think I'm an atheist? I'm not. Maybe you lump atheists and agnostics together. If so, wouldn't that be ironic?
      😀

      August 23, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • CarrieLea2

      Agreed! Athiests and agnostics both! They both piss and moan about what I believe in – why does it really affect them? I wish I could change their minds, but they'll change themselves when they're burning in hell for all eternity. Forever is a long, long time.

      August 23, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
  18. Mike

    The tree had TIV. Tree Immunodeficiency Virus

    August 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
  19. Susan

    I can't believe what so many of the posts are spewing here. This tree was beauty to her and a mental escape. Yes, it is a "just" a tree but goodness – don't you people have any compassion for anyone? Do you know anyone that went through the concentration camps OR a relative of someone that did? I would certainly doubt it by what you are posting. Peace to those of you with so much anger, zero compassion and I will leave it at that.

    August 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
  20. infinitidoug

    The government should put the wood of the tree to good use. Chop it up and turn it into a memorial type object to be put right back to where the tree originally stood. The tree stood in Anne Frank's memory and it should continue to do so.

    August 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
    • Susan

      Great idea 🙂

      August 23, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • Scooty

      Yes, a great idea indeed!

      August 23, 2010 at 4:22 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.