Taking root: Hope

Taking root: Hope

In a courtyard outside the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, a small chestnut tree blooms.

It has roots, literally, in a towering horse chestnut that stood outside the cramped attic in Amsterdam where Anne Frank wrote one of history’s most famous diaries.

During her two years of confinement in the Secret Annex, hidden from the Nazis, the Jewish teen wrote repeatedly of the majestic tree she could see through her only window to the outside world.Blog Photo Despite the horrors of the Holocaust, the tree reminded Anne that a better world was possible.

“As long as this exists,” she wrote, “how can I be sad?”

In 2010, weakened by disease, the 170-year-old tree snapped in two during a windstorm. But dozens of saplings were propagated before its death and have been planted in cities around the world.

The Anne Frank Center USA chose 11 locations in the United States, including the U.S. Capitol, Boston Commons, the 9/11 Memorial in New York, and the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. The sites were chosen based on their historic significance and commitment to educating people about tolerance.

“As the saplings take root, they will emerge as living monuments to Anne’s pursuit of peace and tolerance. In the process, they will serve as powerful reminders of the horrors borne by hate and bigotry and the need for collective action in the face of injustice,” according to the Anne Frank Center’s website on the Sapling Project.

The Indianapolis museum planted the tree in its Anne Frank Peace Park in 2014, and worked with The Anne Frank Center to create a teaching website at annefranktreeusa.com, to help stimulate discussion about contemporary issues of intolerance.

The museum also features an exhibit called “The Power of Children,” which honors Anne and two Blog Photoother children who showed strength in the face of daunting challenges — Ruby Bridges, the first black child to integrate a white elementary school in the segregated South; and Ryan White, the Indiana teen barred from school after being infected with pediatric HIV in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

The theme is how every individual, even a child, can make a powerful difference in the world. The exhibit features live performances that bring those stories to life.

In the Anne Frank section, children can sit at the table where Anne and her family dined in the secret annex above her father’s former business, often in silence so as not to be heard. They can gaze through a recreated window at the famous chestnut. And they can try to decide which precious few belongings they would bring if they suddenly had to go into hiding. Anne and her family could only take a small satchel, so as not to raise suspicion.

My daughter and I struggled with that exercise, weighing whether we’d take food, a change of clothes, family photos, or our dog, who would also need food and water.

Anne Frank was born in Germany but left with her family in the 1930s amid growing anti-Semitism and Hitler’s rise to power. Her father, Otto Frank, set up a new business in Amsterdam, but when the threat of war loomed he tried several times to emigrate with his family to England or the U.S. They were turned away.

After the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands, anti-Jewish regulations drove the family into hiding. Otto Frank turned his business over to employees and set up a hiding place in the secret annex in 1942. Another family and a dentist later joined them, eight people in all.

There they stayed for two years, with five brave employees providing food, clothing and books.
They were arrested in August 1944, along with two of their helpers. The Franks and their companions were sent to concentration camps; only Otto Frank survived, along with the two helpers. Anne died of typhus at age 15.

It’s unclear how the hiding place was discovered. At one point historians thought one of the helpers tipped off the Nazis, but our guide said the current theory is that it was happenstance: a German patrol just decided to check out the building.

That seemed sadder somehow. They almost made it to the end of the war, but for fate.

At the same time, I wondered if I would have had the courage to help the family.

Otto Frank’s employees rescued Anne’s diary and other papers left behind in the annex. In it, AnneBlog Photo wrote that she wanted to be a writer or journalist someday and publish her diary as a novel. A limited edition of 3,000 copies was published in 1947. Millions have since read the diary, and it’s been turned into a play and a film.

I can’t remember if I knew the ending when I read it as a teen. Despite that knowledge, it’s impossible not to find hope in her words.

It’s also hard not to draw parallels with another young girl trapped in the midst of conflict last year. A Syrian refugee named Bana Alabed, 7, was dubbed “the voice of Aleppo” after she and her English-speaking mother, Fatemah, started sharing their experiences in the besieged city via Twitter. They were evacuated safely to Turkey in December but along the way amassed 360,000 Twitter followers.

Most of her tweets entreated the world to save the children of Aleppo and stop war, with the worst moments last November and December: “Tonight we have no house, it’s bombed and I got in rubble. I saw death and almost died” (Nov. 27).

Weeks later, safely in Turkey, her mom tweeted a photo of Bana and her two brothers sleeping peacefully, with the words, “When you don’t fear bombing anymore....”

Bana has continued her tweets and just last month announced she is writing a children’s book, “Dear World,” to be published by Simon and Schuster.

Some have questioned Bana’s story, and whether she understands the political — and sometimes scripted — nature of her tweets. The Syrian government dismissed it as propaganda. But the account has been authenticated by Twitter and major news organizations.

Anne Frank’s diary was questioned, too. Regardless, their stories remind us of the human toll of war, and the consequences when the outside world does little to help.

Meanwhile, the sign near Anne’s chestnut tree in Indianapolis carries a simple hope: that it will “inspire others to make a positive difference.”


Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com or Twitter.com/jawurth.


Top: The chestnut tree outside the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, taken from the original tree that stood outside Anne Frank's hiding place in Amsterdam. Courtesy Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Middle: A marker explaining the Sapling Project. Julie Wurth/The News-Gazette

Bottom: A stone marker that commemorates Anne's words about the chestnut tree. Julie Wurth/News-Gazette


Sections (1):Living
Topics (2):Education, People


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