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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. judi

    one day,i hope to visit anne franks' house.since i was a little girl ,her story of life during those horricic times,inspired me to to feel inner strength,and have a more positive attitude.i pray the tree she enjoyed daily was still here,so my eyes could experience what her eyes did.nice to feel a part of,as a Jew,myself i feel the strength of the resistance groups,the fear of the older people,and the disbelief of all that this could be happening. too much horror too fast for most to grasp,and do something . i always love G-D,&always know we are the chosen people. nobody can change a feeling,or a beliefe. it is so from the heart.

    August 24, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  2. ken snyder

    With all the economic problems caused by the jew and their control of our economic systems ( European and North American ),are we to feel badly for a jew fairy tale,constantly pushed down our throats?

    August 24, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  3. ken snyder

    With all the problems in the world to-day caused by the jews and their control of European and American banking systems,who gives a damn about anne frank ( proven to be false ) and a tree?

    August 24, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  4. Anex

    I doubt many if ANY have pictures of that tree because cameras are NOT allowed inside the Anne Frank House.. I was there in June and got to see it through the from the reflection of a mirror because they don't allow people to go up there..
    Shame that is fell..

    August 24, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  5. Abel

    We all have the original sin. Thats all.

    August 24, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  6. Rebecca

    Why are we all debating religion on this? Shouldn't we just be saddened by Anne's story on a basic human level? And feel grateful that we enjoy freedoms without having to hide away as she did?

    August 24, 2010 at 10:52 am |
  7. Moe Smith

    Because trees that fall UP are a dime a dozen.

    Engrish: duhz joo speeq eet?

    August 24, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  8. Chainsaw McGraw

    That last post is in repsonse to the post by Alvin at August 23, 2010 at 1:54 pm.
    Apparently the reply button is not longer working 🙁

    August 24, 2010 at 10:25 am |
  9. Rick

    A fitting trubute to Anne Frank and her short life would be to have the remains of the tree carved into an Image of Anne Frank and her life. Possibly, a carving depicting the Holocaust and her face overlooking the tree she so loved!

    August 24, 2010 at 10:19 am |
    • nancheska

      Carvings would be great. Or perhaps benches made out of the tree (I think it was a horse chestnut) to be placed @ the Holocaust Museum, in honor of those who died not only in the Holocaust, but any people who've died as a result of persecution and genocide.

      August 24, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  10. Eshinesu

    Rootless,
    the tree falls,
    sweeping the clouds away.

    August 24, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  11. pete d

    why is this news?

    August 24, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  12. pete d

    who fuken cares...

    August 24, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  13. Rabbi David

    You know I'm over it.I'm Jewish and a Rabbi and I'm sick of the media and "progressives" using the Holocaust tragedy to advance issues & ideas that have nothing to do with the Holocaust.Tolerance is not the issue-homicide and people having brains the size of gerbils is.You don't kill your neighbor because that is the way normal people behave.Dragging civil rights,gay rights,diversity and the rest of the "progressive" agenda onto the coat tails of the Holocaust is frankly disgusting.But then THAT sums up the media in this country in one neat package-disgusting, there is nothing you won't try to exploit,profit from or drag into people's living rooms & lives.More people know you for what you are than you think.

    August 24, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  14. Historian

    Finite minds will never be able to comprehend the infinite. God's plan for mankind is set regardless of the debate.

    August 24, 2010 at 8:28 am |
  15. Chainsaw McGraw

    Wow Abel! And here I thought Lebron James had a bit of an ego. You take the cake! So what about all the other races who follow other religions? If you are of the chosen people, why hasn't he struck down the rest? Simple...there is no god. Only people who need comfort from the fear of death. That is all religion is: a nightlight to keep the pathetic sheeps calm as death nears. Nothing more, nothing less. The bible is a story of humanity?! Its nothing but an old story book of morals. I can get just as much out of a complete collection of Asop's Fables.

    If all of your so called "God's chosen" think like you, I say mad props to your "homelands" neighbors in wishing to turn your city into glass. 😛

    August 24, 2010 at 8:10 am |
    • Abel

      I did not mean to offend your sensibilities. Really. I am OK with atheists. One of the favorite friends of a priest a previous parish I used to attend to was an atheist. I think it is a serious responsibility to really be honest with your intellect and your heart (what I mean by that is the overwhelming presence of something bigger than us, like nature, love, life, knowledge, joy, the ability to learn). The Jews have experienced and documented it from time immemorial. I don't see this as a point of contention, but of discovery and as a rallying place for humanity to gather around. We are here for a purpose, just like you want to expose your dissatisfaction with the problems perceived by all of us, we all learn. The chosen people, does not mean that they or we are perfect, but may be, the reason for God to show the rest of humanity His wonderfull and Huge love for us.

      August 24, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  16. Abel

    It is a miracle that God's chosen people still with us after more than 4,000 years. Empires come and go. From antiquity. I can not recall any group of people that has been so distinct and at the same time so much identified with us than the Jews. I am catholic, may be not a good one, but there is something special about being the chosen ones by God. Jesus was a jew, so, how can we not accept the designs of the Almighty? Through Jesus and his apostles, God's hand is seen in action. Cristianity was another sect or branch of judaism anyways. Jesus never denied the scriptures, but explained, with authority, its purpose. Was simple for Him. The bible is the story of humanity, with the refugees narrative shown over and over. Nothing compares with the judeo-christian values and narrative. It is the story of man itself. God, thanks for the jews.

    August 24, 2010 at 8:00 am |
    • Atheist and proud

      @ Abel. See thats exactly WHY i realized religion is a hoax! If god has a "chosen people" why did he ( she ,it) send your jesus to earth to supposedly die for everybody? What will happen to the rest of us "unchosen ones"? Chainsaw is right. There is no god. Your afraid of the unknown therefore believing in some invisible being keeps the boogey man away. There is no proof there is a god therefore there is no god.

      August 24, 2010 at 8:50 am |
    • Abel

      I have the inclination to to opine in your favor. It is for people like you that Jesus came for. I think and believe that you are OK. The problem is when you know about God and deny his Glory( Intentions ). I you deny his existence, that's Ok. It is when, after knowing (experiencing) His love for us (you), thats when karma dissappears. He does not walk away from you, instead the person walks away from Him. Cheers!!

      August 24, 2010 at 9:05 am |
    • OnlyTheTruth

      The New Testament - the KJ version, that is - is clearly supersessionist. After Jesus was sacrificed and rose from the dead, there was no "chosen people" but the bride of Christ, meaning those that have accepted him as Lord and Saviour.

      "Judeo-Christian" is an oxymoron. Jews do not accept the central tenet of Christianity, which is the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.

      Sad to say, much of what Jews have done over the centuries, and continue to do, has been destructive to the heart, faith and traditions of the Christian West. I pray for their repentance and salvation.

      August 24, 2010 at 9:23 am |
    • Chainsaw McGraw

      @ Abel
      What flavor kool-aid do you prefer?

      August 24, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  17. Chainsaw McGraw

    I want to morn the loss...*sniffle*...of all the old...growth....Trees I see....
    Ah hell, just watch this classic clip!

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWVyJ-YG3ew&fs=1&hl=en_US]

    August 24, 2010 at 6:28 am |
  18. tim

    Diseased since 2005, and supported by a crutch. I can see and fight for the sense in trying to preserve the beauty and life of the oak, and what it symbolises but if it collapsed due to rotting alls these years, surely that is just blind denial. I think once it become obvious that the tree was not going to recover, they really should have planted a new tree in her place earlier, ideally a few acorns from the same tree allowed to grow.....

    August 24, 2010 at 6:20 am |
  19. Uju

    I hate people.
    Anne Frank's favourite tree died yesterday.
    It was a symbol against oppression.
    And people looted it and put the pieces of wood on the internet.
    On the cnn.com page about it, people fight about the existance of a god in the comments.
    On the Dutch page about it, people fight about muslims in the comments.
    Why are people such idiots?

    August 24, 2010 at 6:08 am |
    • Chainsaw McGraw

      Ok, you got me all discombobulated over your assanign comment. The last time I checked, it was the diary and what the family went through that was a symbol against oppression. Please tell me how the tree fits into this equation, other than being a simple tree which was mentioned twice, TWICE, in the entire diary.

      August 24, 2010 at 6:23 am |
    • Atheist and proud

      To give "intelligent" people like you something to talk about? maybe?

      August 24, 2010 at 6:58 am |
    • Chainsaw McGraw

      @ Athiest and Proud
      What can I say, I am a sucker for trees. Whether its providing me some added flame for my smores, keeping me warm in the winter in my fireplace, or just providing me that last bit of extra light as me and my homies go tearing through the streets after Dr. Frankenstien and his evil creation with pitchforks, I like trees.

      So yes, this article did provide me something to talk about. Thank you.

      August 24, 2010 at 8:04 am |
    • Atheist and proud

      My last comment was not directed at you chainsaw but rather Uhu. I should have been more clear about that. My apologies.

      August 24, 2010 at 8:25 am |
    • Chainsaw McGraw

      No worries Athiest. Simple misunderstanding/misread on my part there as well.

      August 24, 2010 at 9:50 am |
    • Kate

      @Chainsaw

      It doesn't really, except as another piece of the connected history falling by the wayside. If it had fallen on the house and destroyed the annex, it would probably have been considered a bigger "tragedy", yes, but by itself if's still one of those small things that reminds us of the bigger picture of that time in history, by association.

      August 24, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  20. Dawn

    I'm very sorry to hear that Anne Frank's tree fell. That's so sad.

    Perhaps they could do what some home-owners in Galveston TX did with the ancient oaks that died from Hurricane Ike's salt water: They had artists carve their dead trees into lovely sculptures to commemorate their beloved oaks.

    August 24, 2010 at 3:36 am |
    • Chainsaw McGraw

      Good old fashioned bon-fire or barbeques work just as well.

      August 24, 2010 at 6:24 am |
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About this blog

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.