04 August 2023

Anne Frank’s tree is
difficult to find at
the British Library
after 25 years

The Anne Frank Tree planted at the British Library 25 years ago is now almost hidden from sight (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

I am from a generation that became engrossed in Anne Frank’s Diary just at the stage in our teenage years when we realised the importance and excitement of reading books.

Anne Frank was 13 when she was given her diary as a birthday present. I was 14 when I read her Diary from cover to cover on the beach, day after day, during a formative summer in Ballinskelligs in the Kerry Gaeltacht.

I have passed by the British Library a few times in recent weeks, walking between Euston and King’s Cross. On one of those afternoons – the sme afternoon I attended a family commemoration for my ‘cousin’, the Jewish historian Kevin Martin – I decided to look for Anne Frank's Tree, planted at the British Library 25 years ago on 12 June 1998.

I was disappointed to find that the tree itself is virtually impossible to see, lost almost entirely and half buried in a modern planting scheme that gives priority to the high brick walls surrounding each area of greenery.

Up to 10 years ago, there was a statue of Anne Frank by Doreen Kern (1999) in the forecourt of the British Library. Sadly, it was a victim of vandalism, and so, it was repaired in 2003 and moved to the lower ground area, near the cloakroom.

Although the tree is almost impossible to see, the plaque unveiled when it was planted remains for all to read:

Anne Frank's Tree

Planted on 12 June 1998

To commemorate Anne Frank and all the children killed in wars and conflict in this century.

‘It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions …

‘In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps one day will come when I’ll be able to realise them.’

Anne Frank’s Diary, 15 July 1944

Planted by the British Library and the Anne Frank Educational Trust UK.

The plaque is now on a red brick wall in the British Library plaza. The tree is less easy to find! It is behind the wall that is about two-metre high that has a privet hedge along the edge.

A life-size bust of Anne Frank, sculpted by Doreen Kern for the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, was placed at the British Library on the 70th anniversary of Anne’s birth, 12 June 1999.

The former children’s poet laureate Michael Rosen wrote a poem specially for the planting of the Anne Frank Tree:

We hope that anyone who knows of this tree
will remember Anne Frank
We hope that anyone who knows of this tree
will remember how from her attic window
Anne Frank watched a tree growing outside
and was so moved and entranced
She couldn’t speak
We hope that anyone who knows of this tree
will remember how Anne Frank lost her life
We hope that anyone who knows of this tree
will never let such things happen again
We hope that anyone who knows of this tree
will have as much hope in their hearts and minds as Anne did.

Anne Frank’s Diary was first published as a book in Dutch in 1947. Since then, millions of people have read the thoughts and hopes of this one young girl and have been inspired by them.

Ann Frank was born in Frankfurt in 1929, and her family moved to Amsterdam when she was four after Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933.

Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940, and the Frank family went into hiding in 1942. Anne wrote about receiving her diary as her birthday present that year: ‘I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.’

Anne Frank and her sister Margot and their mother Edith died in Bergen Belsen. Her father Otto Frank was the only member of her family to survive. When he returned to Amsterdam he found Anne’s diary, and decided to publish it so people would remember his daughter and the millions of other people who died in the Holocaust.

‘It’s difficult in times like these; ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.’

Shabbat Shalom

A plaque on a red-brick wall in the British Library plaza is a reminder of the Anne Frank Tree (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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