A Living Legacy

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Sapling from Anne Frank’s famous tree now grows as an uplifting symbol at the Holocaust Memorial Center.

Workers plant the Anne Frank sapling at the Holocaust Memorial Center in a memorial garden.  (Photos by Jerry Zolynsky)
Workers plant the Anne Frank sapling at the Holocaust Memorial Center in a memorial garden. (Photos by Jerry Zolynsky)

Mention the Holocaust and people frequently recall Anne Frank, the Jewish teenager in the Netherlands whose famous diary was published in 1947. She died two years earlier in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

The Diary of a Young Girl, also depicted on stage and screen, remains a powerful piece of writing. Describing the day-to-day reality of hiding with others in the secret annex of her father’s company building in Amsterdam until their discovery in August 1944, Anne stayed optimistic. With evil all around her, she maintained an unshakable belief in the better nature of people.

Several passages in the diary speak of a large horse chestnut tree visible from one window. Cheering her through two years of hiding, the tree was Anne’s sole link to the natural world, representing freedom and her hope for humanity.

Now, a special link to Anne Frank resides in Farmington Hills. A sapling from the same majestic tree that inspired Anne was planted Aug. 27 on the grounds of the Holocaust Memorial Center (HMC) Zekelman Family Campus. The HMC is one of only 11 sites in the United States chosen for the honor by the New York-based Anne Frank Center USA, a non-sectarian, nonprofit educational organization.

“Everyone knows Anne Frank, from at least the sixth grade on, when kids read her diary in school,” said Stephen Goldman, HMC executive director. “Having her tree grow here is really going to touch people.”

The young tree will flourish in the new Viola and Garry Kappy Anne Frank Tree Exhibit and Garden, named for the project’s major funders. The public dedication is scheduled Sunday, Sept. 22.

The Anne Frank Sapling Project started as Anne’s chestnut tree was nearing the end of its nearly 180-year lifespan. Diseased and rotted through the trunk, the massive tree was a safety hazard, slated to come down in 2007. A last-minute reprieve in court and funds obtained for a steel frame kept the tree in place until high winds toppled it in August 2010.

Fortunately, before the tree’s demise, stewards at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam had the foresight to take grafts from the tree to create saplings. The plan was to offer new “Anne Frank” trees to worthy recipients around the world.

On June 12, 2009, the HMC received an invitation to apply to receive ownership of a tree sapling, said Feiga Weiss, the HMC’s librarian and archivist.

Weiss and local artist Gail (Rosenbloom) Kaplan immediately began pursuing the idea for the HMC. Among her past efforts, Kaplan created the mosaic in the HMC lobby as a community project and led the Kindertransport quilt installation.

“The mission of the Anne Frank Center is to teach Anne Frank’s story and continue her message of hope and tolerance for all people,” Kaplan said. “It was a beautiful idea to take saplings from the tree in crisis, so the tree’s message could live on.”

The women received full support for the project from Dr. Guy Stern, director of the HMC’s Institute of the Righteous. He also was interim director of the HMC at the time, following the death of its first leader, Dr. Charles Rosenzweig.

Recalling his visit to the Anne Frank House, Stern said, “I thought then that anything that could be done to commemorate her life story and overwhelming talent would be a blessing.”

A Fitting Home
In the Request for Proposal, Anne Frank Center USA informed interested museums, botanical gardens, human rights organizations and cultural or education institutions that the “Anne Frank tree sapling should be used by the institution as a living icon of tolerance and must then be related to the ‘story’ that the proposing institution wishes to tell.”

Kaplan thought the HMC could easily fill the bill.

Garry and Viola Kappy with the sapling
Garry and Viola Kappy with the sapling

“The sapling project not only teaches about the Holocaust, it dovetails with the HMC’s Institute of the Righteous mission of teaching tolerance,” she said. “The Anne Frank tree speaks to who we are as an institution.”

Weiss submitted the maximum three-page description of educational goals, a site plan for planting the tree and a list of persons who would be responsible for the establishment and maintenance of an exhibit featuring the Anne Frank tree.

Kaplan, the project manager, visited Yvonne Simmons, executive director of Anne Frank Center USA, “to put a face to our name.”

Later in 2009, the HMC was thrilled to learn it would receive a sapling and be forever part of an exclusive group that includes the White House, Liberty Park near the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, Boston Common, the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Arkansas, the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis and five other sites. Plantings began this spring.

Stern praised “these two fine women [Weiss and Kaplan], the ball carriers for the [sapling] project. Their drive and the excellence of their proposal carried it over the goalpost.”

Fundraising was full-speed ahead with the approval. Garry and Viola Kappy are Holocaust survivors who were “looking to do something for the community” when their daughter-in-law, Barbara Kappy, approached them to be part of the Anne Frank Tree Sapling Project.

“I didn’t hesitate,” said Garry Kappy. “I like that when young people come to see the tree, the name of Anne Frank will never be forgotten.”

Other team members for “The Anne Frank Sapling Project: A Tree Grows in Michigan” were Joel Smith, president, Neumann/Smith Architecture in Southfield; Randall Metz, principal, Grissim, Metz, Andriese Associates Landscape Architecture in Northville; and Gary Roberts, president, Great Oaks Landscape Associates in Novi.

Neumann/Smith Architecture, designer of the HMC, helped determine the best location for the tree and garden, outside an Anne Frank exhibit. Grissom Metz designed the new setting and surrounding area; Great Oaks Landscape installed it.

A new plaque honors the Anne Frank sapling in its new home at the HMC.
A new plaque honors the Anne Frank sapling in its new home at the HMC.

After the mandatory quarantine of tree saplings in the Netherlands for three years, Great Oaks took charge of the HMC’s tree when it arrived in March.

“It was shipped bare root — all the soil washed off the roots — in a cardboard mailing tube,” Roberts said. Great Oaks potted the approximately 2-foot tree in a 10-gallon pot.

“We also wrapped the entire tree in tightly woven screen to protect the sapling from insect and animal damage and kept it in our greenhouse until any fear of frost damage had passed,” he said.

Roberts’ company “also had the honor of planting the tree in its permanent location within the limestone surround at the Anne Frank memorial garden.”

For security reasons, the garden is accessible only through the building. Protecting the garden opposite the building are 20-25 Ketler juniper upright shrubs, between 6-10 feet tall, with a small fence behind them.

In the countdown to the tree dedication, the HMC introduced Anne Frank-themed projects. First was the American premiere of My Name is Anne Frank: A Cantata by German composer Volker Blumenthaler and librettist Alexander Gruber. Presented May 7 at Berkley High School, in collaboration with Berkley Schools, the performance featured solos by Cantors Daniel Gross and Penny Steyer.

The Anne Frank Door Project for preteen and teen girls took place July 25-26 at Tamarack Camps in Ortonville. The girls decorated a door that opened to reveal a photo of themselves and their handwritten answers to select questions. The goal was to help them confront some of the same issues Anne Frank faced.

A $15,000 grant from the Jewish Women’s Foundation helped the HMC create an Anne Frank curriculum designed to guide middle and high school educators through teaching Anne Frank’s diary as an introduction to the Holocaust.

“We want to make sure the Anne Frank story is contextualized within the framework of the Holocaust,” Goldman said. The HMC hosted all-day curriculum seminars for teachers from Jewish schools on July 21 and for other educators on July 22.

Anne Frank, May 13, 1944
Anne Frank, May 13, 1944

Goldman said the new curriculum is adaptable to parochial, public and non-parochial private schools and offers an opportunity to reach a broader base of teachers outside the literature and drama classes that typically study Anne Frank.

Funds from the DeRoy Testamentary Foundation and Silberstein-Boesky Family Foundation and some community gifts were also used for the exhibit. Additional grants from Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan and Michigan Humanities Council are currently being used for educational programming.

Under the exhibit title, “Looking Out Anne Frank’s Window,” visitors can look forward to a creative writing program in October for families and a film presentation, Anne Frank Remembered. A post-visit workbook, My Reflections on Anne Frank, will help reinforce students’ memories of the Anne Frank exhibit.

Kaplan is struck by the fact that upon reaching the sloping area of the museum, under the southernmost of the six illuminated skylights fronting the facade, visitors walk up the Ramp of the Righteous and see sunlight for the first time on their dark journey through the Holocaust.

“And directly in front of you is the garden with a glimpse of Anne Frank’s tree,” she said.

In its peaceful setting, the little chestnut brings a message of hope and inspiration to museum visitors, who will come away with their hearts uplifted. 

Anne Frank Tree Dedication
The public dedication of the Viola and Garry Kappy Anne Frank Tree Exhibit and Garden will be at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at the Holocaust Memorial Center, 28123 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills. The afternoon includes free museum admission all day, complimentary kosher refreshments and Mimi Kappy’s interview with retired University of Michigan Professor Irene Butter, a survivor who knew Anne Frank. For information, call (248) 553-2400 or visit www.holocaustcenter.org.

By Esther Allweiss Ingber, Contributing Writer

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