116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — As the sunflower is a symbol of strength and resistance for Ukranians under Russian attack, the chestnut tree Anne Frank saw from the window of the Secret Annex where she hid from Nazis gave her hope.
Janice Weiner, an Iowa City Council member and president of the Agudas Achim synagogue in Coralville, made the comparison during a celebration Friday — marking Arbor Day — of the planting on the University of Iowa Pentacrest of a sapling from Anne’s horse chestnut tree.
“As we and future generations nurture it, we can recall her words: ‘When I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquillity will return once more’,” Weiner quoted to more than 500 people gathered for the event in Macbride Hall.
The sapling, planted in front of Macbride, was given to the UI by the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect USA.
Iowa City, the UNESCO City of Literature and home of the UI Writers' Workshop, is one of 13 U.S. sites to have a sapling from the tree Frank mentions three times in her famous diary, which documents the time from 1942 to 1944 when she and her family were hidden in a cramped Amsterdam attic to avoid Nazi persecution.
She could see the top of the tree from an attic window that wasn’t blacked out.
“Our chestnut tree is in full bloom,” she wrote on May 13, 1944, less than two months before the family was discovered and arrested. “It’s covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year.”
The horse chestnut, which has distinctive white cones of flowers that bloom in May, is native to Europe, but grows well in Iowa. The state’s tallest horse chestnut, in Marshall County, is 61 feet tall with a trunk diameter of more than 12 feet, according to Iowa’s big tree registry.
When the original tree started to succumb to disease in the late 2005, the Anne Frank House took cuttings and germinated them to create saplings. The U.S. Department of Agriculture preserved the saplings, which now are being planted in the United States.
UI German lecturer Kirsten Kumpf Baele in 2017 started teaching a course called “Anne Frank and Her Story,” which introduced her to the sapling distribution. A year later she applied to the program through the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect USA.
As fewer young people have connections to World War II and the Holocaust, Kumpf Baele thought: “What can I as an educator do to grow more awareness of the tragedies of that time period?” she said at Friday’s celebration.
Last year, Kumpf Baele and the Iowa Youth Writing Project hosted an Anne Frank-themed writing workshop for middle school students. She also plans to use the tree to complement her course.
Spoken-word artist Amal Kassir on Friday encouraged the audience to consider Anne’s story not as a relic of the past, but as a narrative that reflects modern times. Anne’s family was denied refugee status in the United States just as many people fleeing conflict in Afghanistan and Ukraine struggle to gain entry to other countries.
“Because of this young woman, we don’t have a portrait piece in front of us, we have a mirror that we can see ourselves in,” Kassir said.
Co-sponsors of the UI proposal were the UI’s Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, International Programs, Department of German, Division of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, Building and Landscape Services and Facilities Management. Other UI units wrote letters of support.
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