BOSTON – A sapling taken from Anne Frank’s solace-giving chestnut tree put roots down in the heart of Boston on Tuesday.
More than 200 community members and schoolchildren gathered in a corner of historic Boston Common to witness the ceremonial planting of one of eleven saplings taken from the tree in 2009. At the time of its demise in 2010, the white horse chestnut tree located behind Anne Frank’s “Secret Annex” was more than 170 years old.
Frank wrote about the tree several times in her now iconic diary, kept while she, her family, and four other Jews hid from the Nazis in occupied Amsterdam. In an entry dated February 23, 1944, Frank wrote about observing the tree with Peter van Pels, the teenager whom Frank developed feelings for during their mutual confinement.
“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,” Frank wrote.
The process of bringing the two-foot sapling to Boston started when staff at the Anne Frank House – Amsterdam’s most visited museum – gathered chestnuts for germination in 2009. Before the stately tree fell during a 2010 storm, an infestation of moths and fungus threatened its health for years.
The Anne Frank Center USA in New York City received eleven saplings along with the mandate to plant them in places resonant with Frank’s vision of a more just and tolerant world. Following Department of Agriculture regulations, the saplings sent to the US grew in post-entry quarantine for three years.
Recognized as the country’s oldest public park, the Boston Common has played host to pivotal events in American history. From the quartering of British troops during the American Revolution to anti-slavery rallies, the Common is a reminder of values espoused along Boston’s historic Freedom Trail, which starts in the 50-acre park.
From California to Delaware, the saplings are being planted in prominent locations including the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Arkansas and New York’s Liberty Park, commemorating the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. In Michigan and Washington, saplings will be planted at sites already dedicated to Holocaust education, while other locations include a children’s museum in Indiana and the White House in Washington, DC.
“The Anne Frank Tree presents an opportunity for each and every student, resident, and tourist to connect with Anne Frank in a tangible way,” said Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, following the announcement of Boston as a sapling recipient. “Her history joins our history on Boston Common and new life will bloom in Anne’s memory as this tree grows and provides inspiration and beauty to future generations.”
Appropriately, a letter written by a 15-year old girl convinced the mayor to apply for a sapling from the Anne Frank House USA.
“I took a trip to the Anne Frank House when I was ten years old and I felt a very deep connection to her and to the building and everything,” said Aliyah Finkel of Brookline, a Boston suburb.
In her letter, Finkel asked Mayor Menino to consider planting one of the saplings as a “Liberty Tree” on the Common. Finkel told the mayor she first read Frank’s diary when she was eight, and was “amazed she could write something so powerful at a young age.”
“I learned about the Anne Frank Tree project while preparing for my bat mitzvah three years ago,” Finkel said, after shoveling mulch around the tree. “Given Boston’s important role in establishing liberty, freedom, and tolerance as fundamental precepts for this country, I felt that Boston Common was a perfect spot for one of these historic trees.”
As the youngest member of a group assembled to ceremonially plant the tree, Finkel was joined by city officials, diplomats from the Netherlands, and staff of the Anne Frank House USA. Representatives of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines – a fiscal sponsor of the sapling project – were also on hand.
“Anne Frank’s legacy reminds us of the importance of freedom, equal rights, and democracy,” said Yvette Daoud, deputy head of the Netherlands’ diplomatic mission in New York.
“Safeguarding tolerance today is a shared responsibility and both the Netherlands and the United States have seen our values challenged,” Daoud said. “Our shared history, values, and vision for the future will be further strengthened by the symbolic meaning of Anne Frank’s sapling growing in Boston.”
The planting ceremony kicked off a month of seven Anne Frank-related programs sponsored by the Boston Public Library and its branches. A “Confronting Intolerance Today” exhibition opened at the library last night, and programs geared toward teenagers include “Creating a Personal Diary” and “The View from Anne’s Window.”
During their remarks, Finkel and other speakers mentioned the recent Boston Marathon bombings and the ongoing need to battle intolerance and extremism. The attacks took place just blocks from the Boston Common.
“The tree will be a symbol of hope for the people and for the history of Boston, which has gone through some terrible things in the past, and also recently,” Finkel said. “It will help Boston move forward from all of the tragedies, just as the tree was a symbol of hope when Anne Frank was going through such a terrible time.”
During a speech before his death in 1980, Frank’s father, Otto Frank, reflected on the chestnut tree his daughter wrote about in her diary.
“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?” Frank said. “She longed for [nature] 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.”