Author Steve Korver Illustration Graham Roumieu
Henric Pomes, owner of the Anne Frank Tree, is sitting behind the desk in his real estate office in Amsterdam. Back in August, he was here when he received a call from his neighbor telling him that the historic chestnut tree in his backyard had fallen down. Pomes thought it was a joke. “It wasn’t even that windy!” he says.
Planted in the mid-19th century, the tree was mentioned three times in Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl as a symbol of hope when she and her family were hiding from the Nazis in the back annex of a house at Prinsengracht 267. Pomes bought the house behind it in 1999. The fact that Anne Frank’s tree was in his new backyard had no bearing on his decision to buy it, he says, adding, “Actually, I don’t think the previous owner was even aware of the tree’s story.”
Few were. The tree became world news only in 2007 after a study showed that it was rotting and needed to be cut down. Advocacy groups and neighbors raised a cry and demanded a second opinion. In early 2008, it was agreed that the tree could survive another few years with the aid of a supporting steel structure. By then it had its own website, a webcam and countless celebrity endorsers. Its chestnuts were listed on eBay.
Over the last few years, the otherwise publicity-shy Pomes took a more active role in the tree’s preservation, feeling he needed “to protect it from any careless decisions.” After it fell, it was placed in a storage facility, and he is currently making arrangements to distribute parts of it to four major Jewish museums around the world. If there is anything left, he may give it to a handful of artists. Meanwhile, on the jagged stump in Pomes’ backyard, a sprout has recently appeared. The story continues…