Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Anne Frank Tree in Arkansas

I've read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl three times, climbed the steps to the Secret Annex at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, toured and written about The Anne Frank Center USA in Lower Manhattan. A copy of the book sits on my writing desk in Arkansas, among other books that inspire me.

In short, I'm a huge admirer of a girl who died 70 years ago, at the age of fifteen. A girl no one would have ever heard of, if her diary pages had not been discreetly scooped up by Miep Gies, one of the "helpers" who hid Anne, her family and another from the Nazis. One of the Gestapo who stormed their hiding place on August 4, 1944, emptied Anne's father's briefcase of "valuables," dumping her diaries - two years of her writing - on the floor. For many people, those discarded pages have become the most personal and compelling account of the Holocaust they will ever encounter.

During the two years in hiding, Anne shared an intimate relationship with only one thing outside the confines of the Annex, a tree. A white horse chestnut that grew in the courtyard outside the attic window. She wrote of it often in her diary. Among my favorite entries...

AP photo/Peter Dejong
"Nearly every morning I go to the attic to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs, 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." February 23, 1944 

"Anne's Tree" survived her by 65 years, blown over in a rainstorm in 2010, after being weakened by moth/fungus infections. Before it died, visionaries at the Anne Frank House gathered chestnuts, germinated them and developed a plan to donate its saplings "to memorialize incidences of intolerance and discrimination across the United States and around the world… and tell a greater story of surmounting the obstacles of discrimination of any kind." 

Eleven saplings were designated for planting in the United States.  Little Rock, Arkansas is the only city to receive two. One at Central High School, site of the Little Rock Integration Crisis in 1957…

and the other at the Clinton Presidential Center.
I visited the Clinton Center last week, 45 minutes from our home in Arkansas, where President Clinton  helped dedicate the permanent installation on October 2. The sapling (temporary substitute while the "real" one is acclimating in a local greenhouse) stands in the center, with a picture of Anne in the foreground. 
She is flanked by two glass panels, etched with her words on the left and President Clinton's on the right. Three glass panels complete the illusion of a house, of containment, confinement. They stand witness to Anne's story and tell their own.         

Chief Heckaton - hereditary chief of the Quapaw during the Arkansas Indian Removal of 1830 (Trail of Tears) 
Melba Patillo Beals - one of the Little Rock Nine (African American students denied entry to all-white Central High School) 
George Takei - actor and activist (confined to Rohwer Relocation Center, Japanese internment camp, in southeastern Arkansas during WW II). 

Victims of intolerance, discrimination, hatred, prejudice.
Like Anne.
Like millions of others.

As I walked away from the exhibit, a man took my place, followed by a couple, soon to be joined by a tour group at the far side of the parking lot. 

One sapling, many voices, plead for us… to listen. 


The Sapling Project, sponsored by the Anne Frank Center USA, launched Confronting Intolerance Today in 2013, highlighting "innovative approaches to combating intolerance." Particular areas of focus are "hate crimes, combating prejudice, tolerance and the rule of law and LGBT rights."  






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