From the window in the attic of her familys hiding place in Amsterdam,Anne Frank could see the crown of an old chestnut tree growing in a neighbours garden. For two years,it was her only contact with nature.
The tree is gone now,having fallen during a storm in August,but its memory lives on not in the diary but in a nasty dispute over its remains.
Board members of the Support Anne Frank Tree foundation,the group responsible for the tree,are incensed with the contractor they hired to build a metal brace meant to extend the sick trees life. They accuse him of botching the job and killing the tree,and then stealing the trees remains and leaving them to rot instead of distributing them to the Jewish museums and other institutions around the world that would like to have them. Perhaps inevitably,given the context and the hard feelings the matter has stirred,they have also accused him of acting like a Nazi.
The tree,which was more than 150 years old and suffering from a fungal infection,was supposed to be felled several years ago. But a group of neighbours and arborists protested the citys decision.
This tree was a monument of hope, said Helga Fassbinder,a board member whose house overlooked the tree. In 2008,the foundation assumed responsibility for the tree,which experts said could live another 5 to 15 years with metal support. Arnold Heertje,a board member,asked a local contractor,Rob van der Leij,to build the metal structure. Heertje,who is Jewish,survived the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands as a child in hiding.
The structure,which cost $170,000,was finished in April 2008. Van der Leij and his subcontractors donated around $120,000,and offered the rest as an interest-free loan. Then,on August 23,the 70-foot tree fell.
An emergency board meeting was held. Fassbinder said Van der Leij knew the structures failure was his fault,and he wanted to remove the evidence as quickly as possible.
Van der Leij said when the tree fell,he called the insurance donator and was told the plan would most likely not cover damage the falling tree had done to neighbouring property. Removal was not covered. At the meeting,he alerted the other members and suggested they split the costs among themselves.
By the end of the meeting,according to Van der Leij and the arborist,the members present agreed that he would remove the tree. But once the 30-ton tree was cleared away,Van der Leij received a letter saying the removal had never been ordered. That was when my trust was broken, he said.
In December,Van der Leijs lawyer sent the foundation a letter regarding payment for removal costs. Under Dutch law,Van der Leij has the right to keep the tree until he is paid,but he has offered pieces of the tree to institutions selected by the foundation.