Memorializing Anne Frank’s love for nature

Likeness of tree mentioned in teenager’s diary to be unveiled for Remembrance Day.

anne frank (photo credit: Archives)
anne frank
(photo credit: Archives)
While Anne Frank and her family were hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, her sole connections to nature were birds, the sky and a white horse chestnut tree outside her secret annex’s window.
The tree, mentioned in the teenager’s famous diary, collapsed during a storm on August 23, 2010 – but its likeness will be unveiled for the Israeli public on May 2, for Holocaust Remembrance Day.
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A monument to the tree will be dedicated in the Anne Frank Memorial Park in the Martyrs Forest, on the outskirts of Jerusalem at 2 p.m. The Jewish National Fund is organizing the ceremony.
Guests will include the Dutch ambassador to Israel, Michiel den Hond; Ronald Leopold, executive director of the Anne Frank House; JNF-KKL Chairman Efi Stenzler; Christoph Knoch, a member of the board of the Anne Frank Foundation in Basel, Switzerland and Eli Van Dam, CEO of JNF-KKL Holland.
The memorial consists of three dunams of pathways, which include signs with passages from Frank’s diary translated into Hebrew. The paths lead to an open room, symbolizing the annex where Frank hid. Visitors can sit on a chair at one end of the room and look at the opposite wall, where they can view the wilderness via the outline of a large tree.
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“Anne Frank suffered like many others, but today, at least we can have a monument in Israel in her name,” said Stenzler. “Israelis will be able to come to share her feelings and her thoughts. If Israel existed in the ’40s, maybe the Shoah would not have happened.”
The project was created by Piet Cohen, an artist and designer originally from the Netherlands.
He was selected because, like Frank, he was a Dutch Jew who hid from the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust.
Cohen was hidden by a Catholic family in the southern part of the country, and made aliya in 1950.
JNF-KKL Holland raised money for the monument, which took almost a year to complete.
The original tree, which at over 170 years old, was one of Amsterdam’s oldest chestnut trees, was diagnosed with a disease in 2005. When municipal authorities wanted to cut it down, community members, tree experts and the staff of Bomenstichting (the Dutch national tree foundation) mobilized. The Support Anne Frank Tree Foundation, established in December 2007, fitted the tree with a metal support structure in April 2008.
Before the tree and its support mechanism collapsed, the Anne Frank House staff gathered fallen chestnuts from the yard where it stood. Some of the chestnuts were germinated, and the saplings given to schools named for Frank, as well as parks and other organizations. Others were preserved and gifted by JNF-KKl Holland to the project’s donors.
The tree’s remains were donated to Jewish museums in Tel Aviv, Amsterdam, Berlin and New York. The Anne Frank House obtained its trunk.
Frank mentioned the tree three times in her diary. In her entry dated February 23, 1944, she wrote, “The two of us looked out at the blue sky, the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew, the seagulls and other birds glinting with silver as they swooped through the air, and we were so moved and entranced that we couldn’t speak.”
During a speech her father Otto gave in 1968, he noted, “How could I have known how much it meant to Anne to see a patch of blue sky, to observe the seagulls as they flew, and how important the chestnut tree was for her, when I think that she never showed any interest in nature.
Still, she longed for it when she felt like a bird in a cage. Only the thought of the freedom of nature gave her comfort. But she kept all those feelings to herself.”
The secret annex, in which Frank also hid with her sister and four other Jews for two years, was raided on August 4, 1944. Frank died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany in March 1945, at age 15.
“The [Dutch] embassy is very happy that Anne Frank’s legacy is maintained in this way,” den Hond said. “It is her story of hope and tragedy that reminds us of the human dimension of the inconceivable enormity of the crime that we call the Holocaust.”