Lawmakers Honor Life and Legacy of Anne Frank

On the eve of Jewish Heritage Month, members of Congress gathered in the Capitol to honor the life and legacy of Anne Frank as part of Holocaust remembrance week. Lawmakers dedicated the Anne Frank Memorial Tree Wednesday; it was planted on the West Front Lawn two weeks ago. The sapling derives from the chestnut tree that grew outside of the Dutch home where Frank and her family hid from the Nazis. “From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree,” Frank wrote in her diary.  “I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” Due to inclement weather, the dedication ceremony took place in Statuary Hall.  Lawmakers and about a dozen Holocaust survivors and relatives sat in the hall as speakers recalled Frank’s story. Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans attended the event and spoke of Frank’s global effect.  “Anne Frank’s diary has become a sapling of humanity,” said Timmerman.  “It has been translated in so many languages. It is read all over the world.” Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., organized the ceremony. Although McConnell and Reid sat on opposite sides of the podium during the event, the two leaders struck similar tones in their remarks, both saying how it is difficult to imagine Frank’s world and that we must all strive to follow her example. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the tree would remind Americans that their country rejects the hatred that fueled the Holocaust. “This is your Capitol and that means this will always be your tree,” said Cantor. The Capitol’s tree is one of 11 saplings derived from the original chestnut tree that were sent to the United States.  The Anne Frank Center USA received the saplings in 2009 and is in the process of planting them throughout the country. Yvonne Simons, the center’s executive director, said the trees are planted in “places that aligned themselves with our mission, which is raising awareness on the consequences of intolerance.” Simons said, “To me, this is the center of democracy,” adding that the Capitol is where “all of those pieces that are so close to our mission are actually put into action.” The Capitol tree is the sixth sapling to be planted. “Initially it was meant to be planted in the White House garden, but evidently you can’t make any changes to that,” said Simons.  “So that’s when I chose the Capitol.” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., was a driving force behind bringing the tree to Capitol Hill. About a year ago, she began working with Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., in collaboration with the Architect of the Capitol and the U.S. Botanic Garden, to choose the best place to plant the sapling. "As a representative of one of the largest Holocaust survivor populations in the country and as a Jew, it is deeply moving and meaningful both personally and professionally to have helped bring a sapling from Anne Frank's chestnut tree here to the Capitol,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. She was brought to tears earlier Wednesday, when she was presented with a framed black-and-white photograph of the window through which Frank admired the chestnut tree. “You offer a window of hope and inspiration to younger generations,” Ron Leopold, executive director of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, told Wasserman Schultz and other lawmakers at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for an Anne Frank exhibit in the Russell Senate Office Building Rotunda that was also held on Wednesday. “For me, as the mother of twin young Jewish-American kids who will turn 15-years-old in two weeks, it’s incredibly impactful and emotional to be able to be part of this ceremony,” Wasserman Schultz said Wednesday afternoon. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Reps. Chris Van Hollen, D- Md., and Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., also attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and received the commemorative picture of the window. The exhibit involves six-foot tall banners that line the Russell Rotunda, detailing in English and Spanish, Frank’s life and the history of the Holocaust, culminating in the publication of her diary.  The banners are part of the Anne Frank Center USA’s traveling exhibits and will be on display through May 9. However, long after the Rotunda exhibit is dismantled, the Anne Frank Memorial Tree will remind visitors and lawmakers of Frank’s resilience and hope in the face of hatred and injustice. “With Anne’s tree keeping watch here on the Capitol grounds, and around the world,” said McConnell, “we know the lessons of her experience will not be forgotten.”