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In 1944, Anne Frank wrote about a chestnut tree she often glanced at through a window in the Secret Annex in which her family was hiding during the Holocaust. To Frank, the tree represented freedom and optimism that she would be able to enjoy nature once again.
Seventy-eight years later, on April 29, 2022, a sapling of that chestnut tree, distributed by the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect USA, will be planted on University of Iowa’s Pentacrest — one of 13 spots within the United States to become home to a sapling of the tree.
While the original tree died in 2010, saplings were collected and preserved at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Once planted, the saplings can grow to live up to 200 years.
Saplings also have been planted on the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., at Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Mich., and at children’s museums, memorials and high school and college campuses.
UI German lecturer Kirsten Kumpf Baele in 2017 developed and began to teach a course titled “Anne Frank and Her Story,” which introduced her to the sapling distribution. The following year she submitted a request and proposal for the sapling.
“I’ve been researching the representation of trees in the Holocaust literature,” Kumpf Baele said. “In doing that research and teaching my course, I also stumbled across the prestigious Anne Frank Center USA.
“I was completely in awe of the work that they do and felt like this was something I had to try for.”
To be considered for a sapling, the UI needed to be able to prove it could maintain the tree in the same conditions as Amsterdam. Temperature and environment needed to be similar, explained Sharon R. Douglas, chief executive officer and board secretary of Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect USA, based in New York City.
“The application is, why do you want the tree, how will you care for the tree?” Douglas said. “It’s a contract — we’ll give you the tree and there are certain recommendations that we ask of the recipients that they care for the tree, that they hold conferences or workshops or in some way show that the tree is important to their community or to their museum.”
Co-sponsors of the 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.
One of the main goals of Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect USA is to educate individuals — especially teenagers and youth — on antisemitism, bullying, intolerance, racism and discrimination.
“Stimulating dialogue and creative freedom during adverse times is what we do through our programs of the power of the arts, the power of writing, to help shape a better community through art and through literary endeavors and through theatrical performances that we have,” Douglas said.
More information on events UI will host leading up to the planting of the sapling, the planting ceremony and more about the initiative can be found at uiannefranktree.com.
Further information on the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect USA is at annefrank.com.
More information on the sapling project can be found at annefrank.com/sapling-project
In June, Kumpf Baele, in addition with two former students, hosted an event in cooperation with Iowa Youth Writing Project in Iowa City. Middle school-aged students participated in an Anne Frank-themed writing workshop.
While “The Diary of Anne Frank” is taught in most education settings throughout one’s education, the theme of isolation is particularly significant to this past year, Douglas said.
“How do we train people to see the world in a different way? And it’s by experiencing and dealing with their own creative abilities in adverse times …. As Anne was in the attic, they are in similar situations, feeling the same things that Anne felt, and how did they deal with it? They listened to the radio. Her radio is our television and computers and she listened to the radio at night,” Douglas said.
“She wrote and she exercised and she had a routine. If you look at her diary, she gets up in the morning, she does some calisthenics, she writes in her diary and she goes through her routine, which is what students are doing now.”
Kumpf Baele hopes to use the tree to enrich and complement her course, which she is teaching in fall and spring semesters this upcoming academic year. The course has a waiting list.
“One of the ways I’d like to connect is via the Women’s Jewish Archive that we have at the University of Iowa,” Kumpf Baele said. “Having students learn how to do some preliminary research together with me and discovering local stories of individuals that came to Iowa and following their stories. Another idea is having students write about the tree.”
Kumpf Baele will be able to view the tree from her office in Phillips Hall and hopes to take students there.
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