Although I read Anne Frank's diary years ago, it wasn't until May of this year that I had the opportunity to visit the secret annex in Amsterdam where Anne, along with family members and friends, hid from the Nazis for two years. While I was in Holland, a tree was planted in Anne's honor on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. I was sorry to miss the tree dedication ceremony.
"Our chestnut tree is in full bloom. It’s covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year."
- Anne Frank, May 13, 1944
One of Anne's few connections to the outside world while hiding in the secret annex was a nearby white chestnut tree which she could see from the attic window. The tree survived the war before being weakened by disease and succumbing to a windstorm in 2010. By then, it was more than 170 years old, making it one of the oldest trees of its kind in Amsterdam. With the permission of the tree's owner, the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam decided to gather chestnuts from the tree, germinate them and donate the saplings to various organizations. The Anne Frank Center USA received 11 saplings, and after a three-year quarantine, the saplings were dispersed to various locations.
Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz sponsored the planting of one of these saplings on the House side of the U.S. Capitol's West Front and on April 30, there was a ceremony in National Statuary Hall dedicating the tree.
At the Architect of the Capitol, our responsibilities include the care of the historic Capitol Grounds, which were developed by the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in 1874. Around that time, Olmsted planted a horse chestnut tree in the same location the Anne Frank Memorial Tree now occupies.
At the ceremony, Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers said: "I think it's fitting that we will plant a tree in Anne Frank’s memory in the shadow of our majestic Capitol Dome. While the tree may be small in stature today, years from now visitors to the Capitol will find shade and solace in its mighty branches. What an amazing legacy for a young woman whose story has touched us all."
According to Ted Bechtol, Capitol Grounds Superintendent, the AOC grounds staff is keeping a careful eye on the small tree as it gets established. "It's not growing fast, but it's off to a good start," he said. "Since it's a small tree, we protect it with a rope line, and during special events like the July Fourth concert, we put a fence around it."
On May 5 when I visited Anne Frank's house, I was able to climb the steps to the secret annex and walked through its cramped, dark rooms. It's tragic that everyone from the secret annex died except for Anne’s father, Otto Frank, but my visit was uplifting. Anne’s hopeful outlook was truly inspirational and has stayed with me since my return home. The Capitol's new chestnut tree on the West Front will continue to remind me of her bravery and spirit.
"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."
- Anne Frank, April 18, 1944
Anne Frank died at the age of 15 in March of 1945 at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.