Judge Spares Anne Frank's Tree

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After an intense, months-long battle with city officials, community activists in the Netherlands have won a reprieve from a city plan to tear down Anne Frank's famous chestnut tree, at least temporarily.

A Dutch judge decided Tuesday that the monumental tree Frank wrote about in her world-famous diary is healthy enough to remain standing and does not have to be felled, at least not immediately.

The 27-ton tree suffers from fungal disease and was scheduled to be cut down Wednesday.

"We are so happy about this," said Helga Fassbinder, a neighbor who looks down on the tree from her apartment in Amsterdam, and founder of the Committee to Save Anne Frank's Tree.

"That tree is not just a tree," Fassbinder said. "It is one of the last living witnesses to Anne Frank and all that took place here."

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Frank went into hiding in Amsterdam in 1942 to escape Nazi persecution. She could see the tree from the only window that was not blacked out in the cramped apartment she shared for more than two years with her family and several others, and she wrote about it in her diary.

By the tree's changing leaves, she could tell the turning seasons.

"Our chestnut tree is in full blossom," a 14-year-old Frank wrote May 13, 1944, less than three months before she and her family were betrayed by an unknown source and arrested. "It is covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year."

In March 1945, the Jewish teenager died in the Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Her diary was published after the war and sold millions of copies.

"The significance of the tree in the diary is that the tree stood for the outside world, the normal world before the war," Rolf Wolfswinkel, a professor of history at New York University and the academic adviser to the Anne Frank Center of New York, told ABC News.

"In a kind of transcendental way," Wolfswinkel added, "the tree became a symbol of freedom for her."

In recent months, "Anne's tree," as it is known in the Netherlands, had become the focus of a growing international controversy.

The tree stands in a courtyard adjacent to the Anne Frank Museum, which houses the apartment where Frank and her family hid during the war. The owner of that property wanted to cut the chestnut down, arguing that 150-year-old the tree was so sick it would be a danger to its surroundings if it fell.

But conservationists and neighborhood activists said the tree was an important monument and still healthy enough to remain standing, and they took the city to court in a last-minute legal appeal to stop the felling.

On Tuesday evening, a Dutch judge assessed the tree, watching as experts tapped the trunk and showed him the rotting wood, according to The Associated Press.

In his courtroom, the judge ruled the city had given insufficient consideration to alternate ways of safeguarding the tree's environment, such as using steel cables to anchor it to parts of the museum.

He gave the different parties until mid-January to come up with a new solution.

Since ordering the tree to be cut down last week, the Amsterdam council says it has been overwhelmed with messages of protest from around the world. International media have descended on Amsterdam to track the fate of the tree, and one neighbor offered a chestnut from the tree for sale on eBay.

The winning bid was $10,240.

Wednesday, the Dutch Association of Insurers announced it would cover the damage if the tree toppled over.

Fassbinder applauded that decision, which she said would force the city and the museum to the negotiating table.

"This chestnut tree is a symbol of resistance against oppression," Fassbinder told ABC News, "and all the misery that comes with it. The conservation of the tree is very important for the city."

But the Anne Frank Museum has said it will not accept the solution of anchoring the tree to the museum walls.

"What can you do with a piece of dead wood," Hans Westra, the director of the Anne Frank Foundation, told journalists Tuesday, according to the Times of London. "This is no longer the tree that Anne saw."

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