Conquering evil: Anne Frank tree thrives in Yorkshire

FROM her attic hiding place it was one of the few signs of nature she could see.

But decades after the monumental horse chestnut tree cheered Anne Frank in her darkest hours, it fell victim to wind and heavy rain last month.

Its descendants, however, live on in Yorkshire, the result of one man's initiative nearly four decades ago.

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In the early 1970s auctioneer Gilbert Baitson made frequent trips to Amsterdam and was shown the house where the teenager and her family hid for two years during the city's Nazi occupation.

He decided to see if he could grow his own tree from conkers and asked if he could be sent some.

In 1974, chestnuts he was sent failed to grow. In 1975 they did not arrive; but the following year they turned up, were planted and thrived.

To his surprise following an article about the planting in a local newspaper a letter arrived from Anne's father, Otto, in Switzerland, the sole member of his family to survive the Holocaust.

He wrote that it made him feel that Anne's wish "to live on even after her death" had been fulfilled, adding: "I am grateful that she lives on in the heart of many people."

The finest example of the Yorkshire Anne Frank trees is now in a corner of the garden of the former family home in Davenport Avenue in Hessle, Hull, and stands about 30ft tall.

Mr Baitson's son Michael, who planted the tree with his son Andrew, then aged five, said: "I just wanted to put the matter straight that there are more descendants of the Anne Frank chestnut tree and in fact, thanks to my late father, there are around half a dozen growing healthily here in Yorkshire."

He recalled: "One springtime my father was at the Anne Frank House and the chestnut tree was in bloom.

"My father engaged the curator in conversation as was his inquisitive nature. He asked the curator if when the conkers were ripe he would send him some.

"When the seedlings had matured, one was placed at Davenport Avenue, some were planted round the pond at Broomfleet, a village near Hull, and some went to a farming friend, John Waudby, at Broomfleet.

"Unfortunately the trees around the pond were vandalised. Mr Waudby planted his in an established copse and they have grown but are quite spindly.

"But the one in Davenport Avenue is magnificent."

Anne refers several times to the chestnut tree in her diary, which detailed her time hiding in secret rooms above her father's office.

"Nearly every morning I go to the attic to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs," she wrote on February 23, 1944.

"From my favourite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind."

Not long before she and her family were captured. she wrote: "Our chestnut tree is in full blossom. It is covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year."

Following their capture in 1944, the Frank family were deported to Nazi concentration camps. Anne and her sister Margo died at Bergen-Belsen in northern Germany, just weeks before it was liberated by the British Army. Anne was just 15.

Her diary was recovered and published for the first time in 1947, and is now one of the world's most widely read books.

The tree, which grew outside her hiding place in Amsterdam, became the subject of a global campaign after city officials deemed it a safety hazard and ordered it felled.

Following a court battle, it was reprieved but last month in high winds it snapped about 3ft above the ground and came toppling to the ground.

Some hope another could grow in its place has been raised after a green shoot emerged from the stump.

As well as the specimens in Yorkshire, there is a sapling at the Batsford Arboretum, in Gloucestershire, grown from a cutting from the original tree, which is now just under 2ft tall. It is being planted out later this month.

Around 150 clones of the original are also thriving at a park in Amsterdam.