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
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