Frank a permanent part of SSU
Friends help honor planting of tree sapling
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By Natalie Gray

“I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver,” wrote Anne Frank in her now famous diary in 1944. “As long as this exists, I thought, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy.” 

Though the tree Frank was referring to – a large horse chestnut just outside the window of the secret annex she and her family took refuge in Nazi occupied Amsterdam – has since fallen, the tree and all it represented is to live on. 

This past Sunday, Sonoma State University held a ceremony in honor of planting what has now come to be known as the Anne Frank Sapling, a seedling of the tree Frank would look at outside her window. The ceremony was a public event, where students, community members, international friends and Holocaust survivors alike were invited to listen to nine key-note speakers and to personally participate in the planting of the sapling. 

“This is such a meaningful event and place that it is deeply shared and will inspire students for many years,” said speaker Dr. Myrna Goodman, director of Sonoma State’s Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide. “Even such small things like this little sapling can inspire great things.”

For the past three years, the young tree has been in quarantine, under the care of Sam Youney, director of landscaping. The skinny but bushy sapling was planted in the Erna and Arthur Salm Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Grove, among a circle of formally donated trees. As is custom with Jewish funeral traditions, the hands of any who wished to help shovel the dirt planted the tiny tree.

Hope was the general message associated with the sapling from the crowd. It was said multiple times throughout the nine speeches, by speakers like Anne Frank Foundation USA representative Hillary Eddy Stipelman, that the mother tree in Amsterdam was a symbol of hope to Frank. It is with that fact the saplings were extracted from the tree before it fell in 2010: so that hope could grow. 

“I thought it was pretty inspiring and important,” said Noah Tenney, SSU student. “It’s an important memorial for what happened and tribute to a very important voice whose message continues to ring true today.”

Among the key speakers were university officials, like Dean of the School of Social Sciences, Elain Leeder and President Dr. Ruben Armiñana as well as individuals with personal connections to the Holocaust and Frank herself. In this group were David Salm and Christopher Dino, both sons of survivors of the war, and Hans Angress, Cotati resident and former classmate of Frank’s. 

Angress said he remembers Frank’s face well, though the two did not spend much time with each other outside their school’s volleyball games and says that, based on her diary and saved notes from their teachers, Frank seemed to be a young girl who was not easily intimidated. He was one of the few speakers to point out the dangers of focusing too much attention on only one voice of the Holocaust. 

“I don’t want Anne to become some kind of goddess,” said Angress. He hopes the sapling will not only be a symbol of Frank’s struggles, but rather a memorial to all the children who were killed or never born by result of the Holocaust and will be a beacon of hope and tolerance in a too often intolerant world. 

Holocaust survivors also sat within the audience, surround by students and community members, to watch and be a part of the sapling planting. Among them was Helena Foster, a survivor of the war and same age as Frank would have been had she survived. After losing her entire family in the war, Foster moved to the Bay Area, where she has remained since. It was Foster who donated the circle of 18 trees now surrounding the Holocaust and Genocide Memorial and, now, Frank’s sapling. 

The Memorial was a large deciding factor for the university to get the sapling, said Leeder. The Memorial sits beside the university lake and includes the donated trees and a structure created by sculpting professor, Jann Nunn. The sculpture is that of a railroad crossing over a footpath and leading to a tower of glass. According to Nunn, the railroad tracks narrow before they reach the tower to imply through educational efforts, genocide can be stopped. The tower is illuminated at night, to imply there is also a light in the darkness. The university is also home to a Holocaust and Genocide lecture series, which is currently celebrating its 30-year anniversary.  

Only 11 saplings from the mother tree in Amsterdam were given to the Anne Frank Center USA and of those, only two were distributed to the west coast. The Memorial Grove and lecture series played an important part in Sonoma being granted a sapling, said Dino. 

“It is a rare opportunity to be a part of a historical event [such as this],” said Dino. “I know in my heart and in my soul the tree belonged at Sonoma State.”

SSU was the second in the nation to plant their sapling, the first being the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis just a few hours prior to the planting at SSU. According to Armiñana, though, the SSU sapling is the tallest and most beautiful sapling of all 11 in the country.

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