Guest Posting By Alice Jonsson - Anne Frank's Tree
"There's a destructive urge in people, the urge to rage, murder and kill. And until all of humanity, without exception, undergoes a metamorphosis, wars will continue to be waged, and everything that has been carefully built up, cultivated and grown will be cut down and destroyed, only to start all over again!" - Anne Frank
Have you ever been to the Secret Annex, the one where Anne Frank and her friends and family hid in Amsterdam? It’s part of a block of tall, skinny brick buildings that are all crammed together in that Amsterdam style. In the center of the square of buildings, is a courtyard in which there grows a chestnut tree that is seriously ill. Anne wrote lovingly about this tree in her world famous diaries. Other trees have got to be really jealous. How many trees can say that such a gem of a person loved them and immortalized them in such a way?
The tree lived for her on the outside while she waited inside. It grew while she grew. It felt the rain while she watched the rain. It was full of birds and squirrels and life that I can only imagine provided many dramas for the beautiful people hiding for their lives in that attic. Putting everything on hold. Waiting like no one should have to. Feeling afraid like no one should have to.
So now the tree has lived out its life. It was in intensive care for years. People who love Anne and her family and her friends- and whose lives revolve around keeping them alive for us- have tried really hard to save this tree that knew Anne personally. They’ve battled the disease with vigor, lightened the load by trimming back the canopy, and even taken grafts from the tree- just in case. But now people who want the tree to live very much are saying that it’s just too sick and is becoming a threat to the buildings surrounding it and to the people in those buildings- and to the secret annex itself. So some very depressed men with chainsaws are going to have to remove the tree very carefully, piece by piece. I bet some of them are going to cry over it. Along with lots of other people.
I loved to read as a kid, still do. Stepping through the bookcase and going up the stairs into the annex was like stepping through the looking glass, going down the rabbit hole, or entering Narnia through the back of the wardrobe. The attic was larger than I expected. But clearly a very depressing place in which to be confined. It was grey and sad and dusty.
You wander from room to room trying to comprehend what it would have been like to be stuck there. Why it all happened at all. And these were a few of the millions. Millions. What does a million people look like? What does three million people look like? You go from one -Anne- to ten, the people with whom she hid, to what? To millions, something we really aren’t even capable of comprehending. You go to the photos you’ve seen of camps and you picture these people there. This is like imaging your mom there, your brother there, the kid who sat next to you in class there. And you try to make sense of that lunacy.
At this point, wandering around the attic I felt my chest tighten up. I entered her bedroom and up on the wall protected by a sheet of plexi-glass are pictures that Anne had cut out of magazines and taped to the wall: Queen Elizabeth as a beautiful young woman, movie stars, and paintings reproduced for a story in a magazine. That’s when it felt real to me. It’s inescapable that when we turn people into icons, they lose their humanity. See the pictures taped to her wall and stare at them the way she must have for hours, and Anne turns into a real girl. And you are snooping in her room.
A few years after that trip, I took a job as an aide in a school. Walking through the halls, smelling the cafeteria food- and let me tell you the school spaghetti tastes exactly the same, uncanny- memories came rushing back from all senses. The way the bells sound, the chairs sliding on the floor. A little girl opens her locker and there pasted to the door are pictures of her favorite movie stars and cute photos of kitty cats wearing sunglasses.
What on earth would possess anyone to want to hurt a kid? And she was one of 1.5 million people under the age of eighteen who was murdered. Read that word million again.
Hashem, I don’t get it and the older I get the less I get it. You’d think it would be just the opposite. So Anne, we’re so sorry. We don’t understand it at all. And we have to tear down your tree.
But the grafts are growing and are doing well.