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A sapling from Anne Frank’s chestnut tree grows at Yad Vashem

AnneFrank, 1940

MARCH 8, 2018 – JERUSALEM – Israel’s capital has many historic trees, including the grove of gnarled olives in the Garden of Gethsemane, under which Jesus may have sheltered two millennia ago; the looming cypress planted by Godefroy de Bouillon where French knights camped in 1099 during the First Crusade, today the site of Francais Saint Louis Hospital; and the 700-year-old Kermes Oak that stands alone in Gush Etzion south of the city, a reminder of the massacre by the Arab Legion in 1948.

Now, Jerusalem has a new living monument: a sapling seeded by Anne Frank’s white horse chestnut tree in Amsterdam, which is growing at Yad Vashem near its International Institute for Holocaust Research.

For more than two years until her arrest on August 4, 1944, Frank – a precocious teenage diarist, hid from the Nazis in her family’s secret annex. Through a window in the attic, she admired the majestic chestnut tree, planted around 1850, that stood in the courtyard of a neighboring residential block.  The tree was her only connection to the outside world and the changing seasons.

The sapling from Anne Frank’s chestnut tree at Yad Vashem. Photo by Gil Zohar

Frank wrote about the tree three times in her diary. On the last occasion, on May 13, 1944, she observed: “Our chestnut tree is in full bloom. It’s covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year.”

Earlier, on April 18, 1944, she wrote: “April is glorious, not too hot and not too cold, with occasional light showers. Our chestnut tree is in leaf, and here and there you can already see a few small blossoms.”

The first reference to the tree was on Feb. 23, 1944, when Frank noted: “The two of us [Frank and Peter van Pels, a German Jewish refugee who also hid in the annex] 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.”

For decades, the storied chestnut tree was cared for by Amsterdam’s Pius Floris tree care at the behest of the city’s Central Borough Council.

In 2005, it was determined that the tree was ailing, and valiant efforts were made to save it. The Anne Frank House asked permission of the owner of the tree to gather and germinate chestnuts. The saplings, grown and cared for by Bonte Hoek Nurseries, were donated to schools around the world named after Anne Frank and other organizations. In 2009, 150 saplings of the tree were donated to the Amsterdamse Bos woodland park.

Initially, Yad Vashem was concerned the chestnut tree would not acclimate to Jerusalem’s long, dry summers. But the tree today is doing well.

Besides Jerusalem, a sapling was recently planted in Vienna’s second district, a neighborhood with many Jewish residents before the 1938 annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany. Eleven chestnut trees are growing in the United States, including one at Manhattan’s Liberty Park commemorating 9/11, thanks to the sapling project of New York-based The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect.

In 2008, the Support Anne Frank Tree Foundation placed iron struts to prop up the original tree in the hope it would remain standing for further decades. But the tree was already too rotten. During a violent rainstorm on Aug. 23, 2010, it collapsed together with the girders supporting it, leaving a 1-meter high stump. Fortunately, no one was injured.

On its website, www.support-annefranktree.nl, the Dutch-based foundation responds to the question, Was the battle to save the tree all for nothing?

“The answer is a resounding no!” the foundation responded.

“The tree and the struggle to preserve it in the last two years has fulfilled an important task in an extraordinary manner: The reawakening of the world’s collective memory of the Holocaust and a call for tolerance and mutual respect. The seedlings planted all over the world will continue to spread the message, a grand and dignified final stage in the life of this tree. This would not have happened were it not for the battle for its preservation.”

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