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September 23, 2013

The tree outside her window

White chestnut referenced in Anne Frank’s diary dedicated in Holocaust Memorial Center’s permanent exhibit

By Sherri Kolade
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
A sapling from the white chestnut tree that brought Anne Frank solace when she and her family hid from the Nazis during World War II is planted in the courtyard outside the Anne Frank Tree Exhibit and Garden at the Holocaust Memorial Center.

FARMINGTON HILLS — It was not your average tree.

It was a white chestnut tree that sparked hope inside a young girl’s heart during a time of turmoil and seemingly insurmountable suffering.

Anne Frank, who died at 15 years old from typhus — a disease caused by poor hygiene and lack of adequate nutrition — during World War II in a concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen, wrote in her diary beforehand about that very tree.

In the diary’s historic pages, she describes the tree as something that gave her comfort and happiness when she and her family hid in a secret annex in her father’s company building in Amster-dam. 

“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,” she wrote in 1944. “When I looked outside right into the depth of nature and God, then I was happy, really happy.”

That diary passage was read like a blessing given before the dedication of the tree sapling referenced in the “The Diary of Anne Frank” at the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus, 28123 Orchard Lake Road, Sept. 22.

The Anne Frank Center USA awarded the sapling to the HMC; it is one of 11 saplings to be planted in the United States from the nearly 200-year-old tree. It will become part of a larger exhibit titled, “Looking Out Anne Frank’s Window.”

The HMC will house the tree sapling as part of its permanent exhibit, for thousands of children to see and be inspired by, HMC Executive Director Stephen Goldman said.

“Our exhibits create a call to action, teaching visitors through the examples of those who risked their lives to save others, and asking our guests to react to contemporary challenges such as racism, intolerance, bullying and prejudice,” he said in the release. “This tree and the surrounding exhibit will epitomize these messages, exemplifying hope for humanity.”

Irene Butter, a Holocaust survivor who met Frank, said during the event that Frank would have been a survivor, not a victim, if she had lived.

“A victim is a person who has undergone a very difficult time and holds on somehow,” Butter said, “and cannot go beyond the suffering. A survivor is someone who doesn’t necessarily forget the suffering, but tries to take advantage of (the) beauty … that life offers. And a survivor feels powerful, but a victim is powerless.”

She added that under Frank’s difficult circumstances, she was able to embrace nature.

“(Frank) had hope for the future, and I think that is her legacy,” she said. “That is how survivors act.”

Attendee and West Bloomfield resident Karen Goss told C & G that her parents were Holocaust survivors, and the event touched her.

“I thought it was beautiful,” she said of the event that drew roughly 800 people. “I thought the message of hope, through everything, and trying to find the goodness in everything, is beautiful.”

For information, call (248) 553-2400 or visit www.holocaustcenter.org. Museum Hours are 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, the last admission is at 3:30 p.m. The museum is also open 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m., with last admission at 1:30 p.m., on Fridays. A public tour starts daily at 1 p.m. The museum is closed on Saturday, Jewish holidays, and most legal holidays.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sherri Kolade at skolade@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.