Tuesday, 20 November 2007


A court today will be considering an appeal for an injunction against the felling of a tree...

Not any tree, but a horse-chestnut tree in Amsterdam that is over a 150 years old and sick to its roots with a fungus infection that is making it unsafe. So, why is anyone anxious to save it?

Quite simply because it stands in the garden of a house in Keizersgracht that is overlooked by the secret annex where a Jewish family by the name of Frank hid from the Nazis for two years during WWII and where the family's youngest daughter, Anne, would write a diary that made her name famous throughout the world...

When we were in Amsterdam, we visited the Anne Frank House on Prinsengracht. I wasn't agile enough to climb the ladder-like stairs into the secret annexe, but it is impossible to be in the building - despite the somewhat sanitized, visitor-friendly feel which is inevitable for a public museum receiving thousands of visitors every day - without feeling the weight of true history: not the great dealings of rulers and dictators or the terrors of the battlefield, but the small, ordinary drama of human history as seen through the eyes of a young and gifted child.

On 18 April 1944
, Anne Frank 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.

In a speech given in 1968, Anne's father, Otto Frank, spoke of the thoughts that came to his mind when he read Anne’s diary for the first time:
 "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. But she longed for it during that time when she felt like a caged bird. She only found consolation in thinking about nature..."

As, indeed, she did. On 13 May 1944
, just three months before the family were betrayed and their hiding place was revealed to the Nazis, Anne wrote:
Our chestnut tree is in full blossom. It is covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year.
Now, if the injunction fails, the tree will be felled and a small, some might say insignificant, piece of history will be lost.

There are plans, if it has to fall, to plant a healthy graft from the tree to keep alive the notion of freedom that it represented to Anne and - it could only happen in our modern age - the Anne Frank House Museum has 'planted' a Virtual Tree...

But neither, of course, can ever replace the tree itself...
23 February 1944:

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.

Image: Peter Dejong/AP Photo

Today is Closing Day for entries to our


Boll Weavil said...

A very moving and sobering post Mr B.As we have a tree in Notts that is only kept alive for hundreds of years by legend and the spending of huge amounts of cash, one wonders whether or not it wouldn't be worth doing the same with one that has a real importance.

Eudora said...

The chestnut could die, after 150 years... but that`s life even for the trees. But please, don`t say that we lost a piece of the history, the history is making with memories, not only with things, people or trees. We will lost only the things that we will not want to remember.

I know it`s sad lost a landscape, the tree of the Anne`s hope, but you can plant another.

Of course I hope that the treatment work.

LisaH said...

A lovely, poignant Blog Brian. And since I haven't been able to get to Amsterdam yet, thank you for bringing a little of the house to me.
I hope that the tree can be saved through treatment. If not and it is unsafe then I fear it must come down and another one planted in its place.
But Anne Frank will live on in history.

Qenny said...

What became of the caption competition, BTW?

And on a topic vaguely related to this blog entry, we spent a bit of time this week with a visiting magician from Ohio, and his wife. Ohio is the buckeye state, and we eventually worked out that a buckeye tree is what we call a horse chestnut. The things you learn.

Brian Sibley said...

QENNY - Thanks for sharing your horticultural knowledge with us! Hope you ticked it off in your 'I-Spy Book of Trees and Shrubs'!

Caption Competition results SOON!!!