SSU set to plant history
Anne Frank tree sapling to become fixture on campus
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By Natalie Gray  April 5, 2013 12:00 am

In May of 1944, just three months before she and her family were arrested and deported to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Anne Frank wrote in her diary of how beautiful she found the horse chestnut tree just outside the window of the secret Annex to be.

Sixty-six years later, in 2010, the tree collapsed outside the hidden attic from disease, but not before seeds were taken and germinated into saplings. Only 11 of those saplings were granted to the Anne Frank Center USA, and one of them will be at Sonoma State University.

“It is a symbol of human endurance and search for freedom even under the most difficult, at time lethal, circumstances,” said Ruben Armiñana, university president in an e-mail interview. “I hope it will help our community reflect on the value of human life and freedom.”

The sapling will be planted April 14 at the Erna and Arthur Salm Holocaust and Memorial Grove, just beside the university’s lake. 

A small ceremony will accompany the public planting at 1 p.m., with guest speakers such as Hans Angress, a classmate of Frank.

SSU was one of only two locations west of the Mississippi to be granted the tree, said Dr. Elain Leeder, Dean for School of Social Sciences at SSU and head director for the event. The second was the Washington State Holocaust Research Center, with other locations including the William J. Clinton President Center, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and the White House.

Curriculum plays key role

According to Leeder, one of the leading factors of SSU getting the saplings was the school’s dedication to the education of the Holocaust and genocides. For 30 years now, the university has held a Holocaust and Genocide Lecture Series, currently coordinated by Diane Parness, a political science professor. The series focuses on all genocides and the destruction left in their wakes.

“Our mission is to educate about genocide and bring them to an end,” said Leeder in a phone interview. “(About) changing society so we don’t have such anymore.”

Memorial Grove a factory

Another factor in the university receiving the sapling was the Memorial Grove, a dedication meant to honor all those who have suffered under genocide – victims and survivors alike. The memorial was erected at the school in 2009, not long before Frank’s chestnut tree succumbed to disease and its few saplings extracted.

The sapling actually made the long trek from Amsterdam to SSU in 2009 but was made to undergo quarantine, where Sam Youney, university director of landscaping, nurtured it. The quarantine was meant to insure the small tree was well cared for and free of disease and now, after three years, the tree is finally ready to be planted at the memorial grove.

Inspiration for future

“It’s really cool they are able to share the history and tree so that hope can continue,” said SSU student Theresa Cadigan. “If Anne Frank was able to look at the tree and see something better than what she was facing, then maybe students will be able to see some sort of hope for the future (in the tree).”

There will be a small ceremony surrounding the planting of the tree, and the university invites the community to attend. As based from Jewish funeral tradition to shovel earth into a grave, multiple individuals will be invited to help shovel the dirt for the tree.

“There are many Holocaust survivors and children of survivors in Sonoma,” said Leeder. “This is a place to honor the memory of the Holocaust and other genocides. We are a place of genocide education and we will continue to be that.”

In correlation with the planting of the sapling, the SSU library is currently hosting an Anne Frank exhibit, “Anne Frank: A History for Today,” that will remain open until April 22. 

To learn more about the planting of the sapling, the Anne Frank library exhibit or the Holocaust and Genocide Lecture Series, you can visit www.sonoma.edu/holocaust. 

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