Anne Frank tree sapling to grace U.S. Capitol grounds

Horse-chestnut will be planted as a symbol of healing

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Between the fear of discovery during the Holocaust and frustrations of hiding for two years in a cramped apartment, Anne Frank gleaned brief moments of hope from a chestnut tree outside her window.

“Our chestnut tree is in full blossom. It is covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year,” is her entry for May 13, 1944 in “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

The horse-chestnut tree was one of the few signs of the natural world to be glimpsed from the small hideout window of perhaps the most famous victim of the Nazi Holocaust. Seventy years after Frank wrote about the tree in her famous diary, a sapling from the original will be planted as a symbol of healing Wednesday on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.

“She could see the changing of the seasons, which was obviously very important for someone in captivity,” said Yvonne Simons, executive director of the Anne Frank Center USA, which is heading the sapling project. “For her, she talks about it as a reminder of a better world out there and giving her a sense of hope and beauty and renewal.”

The original tree, estimated to be about 170 years old, was knocked down during a windstorm in 2010, according to the project’s website. But before its demise, officials at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam germinated seeds to create saplings so Frank’s memory could live on.

Eleven were sent to the U.S. to be distributed to sites across the country that were able to adequately care for the tree and represented Frank’s ideals of peace and tolerance, Ms. Simons said.

The Capitol was an easy choice, she said. In addition to being the site where several pieces of tolerance legislation became law, the Capitol has a staff of landscapers who already take care of more than 135 other memorial trees on the grounds, according to Laura Condeluci, a spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol. The Capitol could also ensure nobody would vandalize the tree with 24-hour security cameras, Ms. Simons said.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat who represents one of the largest Holocaust survivor populations in the country, was tapped by the White House to work with Congressional leaders and the Architect of the Capitol to find a place for the tree, said Sean Barlett, a spokesman for Ms. Schultz.

“I am mindful of the millions of children who will visit the Capitol in the coming years and witness the growth of what I know will become a mighty and beautiful tree that is reflective of the might and beauty of its namesake,” Mrs. Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “Anne’s life was cut tragically short, but her indomitable spirit endures in these saplings and through her timeless diary.”

More than 70 sites across the country were interested in receiving a sapling, Ms. Simons said. A panel of board members familiar with Frank’s legacy worked with tree experts to determine the best places for the trees.

In addition to proper tree care and portraying the message, Ms. Simons said they had to worry about the site having a climate the sapling could thrive in. For example, some sites were ruled out because the climate was too warm. A board member told Ms. Simons one tree planted in a warm climate was already not doing well, she said.

“He mentioned the Anne Frank House had planted one in Israel and it’s dying,” she said. “We did due diligence here. There’s certain climates that are just not good for it.”

The 3-foot tall sapling will need to be watered carefully for its first year and will also require some light pruning, Ms. Condeluci said. She said landscapers will also keep the sapling protected until it gets bigger.

Plantings began in 2013, after the saplings went through a three-year quarantine at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make sure they didn’t carry any diseases, Ms. Simons said.

Five trees have already been planted across the country at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis; Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, Calif.; Boston Common; the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Mich.; and at Southern Cayuga School District in Cayuga County, N.Y.

The five remaining saplings will be planted in 2015 at Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.; the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock; the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights in Boise, Idaho; Liberty Park, commemorating the 9/11 attacks in New York; and Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center in Seattle.

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