On Monday at 1:30 p.m. local time, pushed by winds and rains, battered by rot and moths, the Anne Frank tree fell down, breaking through its iron supports, and crashed into a courtyard in Amsterdam. The chestnut tree gave comfort to a teenage girl as she hid with her family in the secret annex of a house for two years during the Holocaust, and has come to be seen as a symbol of hope and remembrance around the world. It was about 150 years old.
Anne could see the chestnut tree from a window in the attic of the annex. She wrote about the tree in her diary, The Diary of a Young Girl, three times. 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." On May 13, 1944, she wrote: "Our chestnut tree is in full bloom. It's covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year."
"Nearly every morning I go to the attic to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs," she wrote on Feb. 23, 1944. "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. As long as this exists, I thought, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy."
Battle to save the tree
In 2007, after Amsterdam city officials ordered the tree cut down, a global campaign to save the tree was launched. The tree, which by then was infested with moths and fungus, was deemed a safety hazard. The tree was granted a reprieve after a court battle. The "Support Anne Frank Tree" foundation has safeguarded the tree for the past two years.
The foundation helped give the tree an iron support structure in April of 2008, which members had hoped would keep the tree standing for another five to 15 years.
In 2005, the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam decided to germinate chestnuts from the tree after it started showing its first signs of illness.
Canada will get its own piece of the Anne Frank tree on Sept. 27, when a sapling will be planted outside the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre. Michael Vineberg, a Holocaust survivor and member of the Anne Frank Foundation, acquired a seedpod from the original tree and gave it to the centre earlier in the summer. Mr. Vineburg is on vacation in Europe and could not be reached for a comment, but Alice Herscovitch, executive director of the centre, called the donation "quite wonderful."
Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said he is now working to get saplings for Toronto and Vancouver, as well.
Saplings from the tree have already been planted in Europe and the United States. Amsterdam planted 150 seedpods in a park and the United states planted another 11 at various sites across the country.
People flocked to the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter on Monday to discuss the news of the tree's demise. "So sad that Anne's tree is gone," one man wrote on the wall for the Anne Frank House Facebook group. "That means we've lost a piece of history."
Mr. Farber says the tree is a symbol of how life goes on. Despite the sadness of losing the tree, he said part of the Jewish tradition is to focus on starting again - in this case, by taking comfort in the saplings that will be planted in Canada. "It's not an ordinary tree," Mr. Farber said. "It's so powerful."
Ms. Herscovitch said it's important that the memory live on even though the tree is no longer. "It's not so much about the tree falling," she said. "What's important is the symbol it represented for Anne Frank, which was hope."
Tree of life
Trees are symbolic of the cycle of life in many faiths and traditions. One of the key tenets of Judaism is the Eitz Chayim - literally translated to "the tree of life." Mr. Farber says this may have been one of the reasons Anne took comfort in the chestnut tree. He says the concept of using the saplings from the dead tree, a tree that stood long after her death in a concentration camp, to create another tree just makes the Anne Frank Tree even more significant.
"There's so many connections here that make it so important," Mr. Farber said. "Sometimes things just fall into your lap."