Friday, December 07, 2007

Guest Posting By Alice Jonsson - Anne Frank's Tree

(Picture courtesy of

"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.


At December 7, 2007 at 10:29:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a beautiful, moving post! Alice, you're a very gifted writer!

At December 7, 2007 at 1:00:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was much younger I used to think (it seemed to me) that it's not a question of understanding. Anyone can theoretically "understand" this intellectually; the question is how can we make peace with it emotionally? That would seem to be the impossible feat.
Yet, we see it is Moshe Rabbeinu – who represents intellect – and not the Avos – who represent emotion – who cannot understand. He is the one who continues to ask G-d to explain how bad things happen to good people. He struggles to understand G-d’s justice. And G-d tells him to be silent. As it turns out, it is easier to make peace with this emotionally, but intellectually the questions constantly demand answers. Moreover the questions get stronger and the answers seem further away…

Recently I heard an interesting parable. Chazal say that when the Romans brutally murdered the10 Martyrs, the angels asked G-d, “Is this the reward for Torah?” And G-d responded, “If you don’t accept this, I will revert the world to nothingness.”

What does that mean?

This is the parable I heard: A King commissioned a tailor to make him a garment, and he gave him expensive material to use. The tailor took the material and produced a garment that was a true masterpiece. Others, who were jealous, claimed that although the robe is quite magnificent, the tailor had stolen and benefited from the remaining (unreturned) material and as such he should be punished severely.

The king was quite upset at this allegation, and demanded that the tailor prove his innocence. So the tailor answered: "I would, but the only way to do so would be to dissemble and destroy the garment." The king was still angry and ordered him to do so, and he recreated the original material stitching it all back into one bolt of cloth, piece by piece.

Similarly, G-d says, “To truly understand, all of creation would need to be disambled.”

And so, we live and never really understand…

At December 7, 2007 at 1:03:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You also might like this piece:

At December 7, 2007 at 1:49:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Interesting comment and link!

At December 7, 2007 at 2:17:00 PM EST, Blogger Alice said...

Thanks for your kind words. : )

chabakuk elisha, re. the ascent link, I so hope that interpretation of events is true. That would be wonderful. I'm not sure I'm understanding it more either emotionally or intellectually. I look at my two-year-old and feel baffled.

At December 7, 2007 at 2:33:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

- sigh -

Yeah, we're all baffled. How can we not be?

If Moshe was baffled, how can we be otherwise? I think that if someone isn't baffled there must be something wrong with them...

I wonder about this every time I say Shir Hama'alos before Birchas Hamazon when I recite the words "hayinu kicholmim" (we will have been like dreamers ) -- it is tought that in the future, after the redemption, we will look at all of Exile as a dream. Can I understand that? Not really, but I try.

At December 8, 2007 at 11:07:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

C.E.: You’ve put your finger on the quintessential question for me: Hashem gave us the Torah, and we are taught that G-d is just. His law teaches us right from wrong. Yet, even when we “play by the rules”---*as He defined them*---bad things happen to good people: history is filled with Holocausts, wars, natural disasters, disease, pain ... and we are told to accept that it is G-d’s will. Hashem gave us our senses and our intellect ...yet catastrophes are explained as illusions or as simply beyond our comprehension. And, too, when good things happen, unexpectedly, they are called “miracles” or divine providence/hasgocha pratis. What, then, is justice? Are the bad and good things that happen merely random events, and not rewards or punishments? Will our neshomas get what they “deserve” only after we leave this earth, or when Moshiach comes? Obviously, I’m baffled, too; I seek to understand as well as to accept.

At December 9, 2007 at 9:51:00 AM EST, Blogger Juggling Frogs said...

What a beautiful post.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if that tree could be used to make a Torah scroll's "eitzim"/handles?

At December 9, 2007 at 11:42:00 AM EST, Blogger Alice said...

Thanks and I like your idea very much. I'm sure the tree would like it too. : )

At December 9, 2007 at 4:17:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for your thoughtful post.

when i visited amsterdam i took the bus to anne frank's house. it's in a "lovely" neigborhood, overlooking one of the canals. when i got there i saw a line of people waiting to get in. i just stood there and became very upset. i wanted to shout at these people: this is NOT a tourist site, this is a holy place where a special person lived.
i was totally disgusted by what felt to me as a bunch of goyim lining up to see a tourist attraction. i ran as fast as a i could back to the bus.
in retrospect it would've been good if i could have at least said some tehilim, but the whole scene just revolted me.
i'm glad you had a more meaningful experience and could write well about it.
it just was too much for me.

At December 10, 2007 at 1:16:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...


I am not sure if I understand your comment. Alice is a Bas Noach, this means that she is not Jewish.

On one hand you find this posting to be thoughtful, yet on the other hand you seem to be indicating that you believe that non-Jews visiting Anne Frank's house can't be doing something positive.

Wouldn't it be ironic if one of the "goyim" who disgusted you that day was actually Alice who later went on to write these beautiful words?


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