Aliyah Finkel of Brookline was preparing for her bat mitzvah three years ago when she learned that the iconic and inspirational chestnut tree outside Anne Frank’s window had fallen in a violent wind storm.
Finkel went on to spearhead an effort to bring a sapling from the tree to Boston, an endeavor that culminated Tuesday as more than 100 schoolchildren, dignitaries, city officials, and Holocaust survivors gathered on Boston Common to watch the sapling being planted near a path by the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.
Boston Common was one of 11 sites selected by The Anne Frank Center USA, a nonprofit founded by Frank’s father Otto Frank to spread her legacy, to receive a sapling from the 170-year-old tree. The Common site was chosen after Finkel wrote to Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, urging the city to apply.
In her famous diary, Anne Frank described the tree as a symbol of hope for her and her family as they hid from the Nazis in an Amsterdam annex for two years during World War II. She died in 1945 in a German concentration camp.
Finkel, now 15, said she felt a special connection to Frank after reading her diary and visiting the home.
She said she hopes that as the sapling grows into a full chestnut tree it “uplifts people’s spirits.”
“My hope is as we move forward, this tree will serve to remind generations of Bostonians and visitors to Boston Common of Anne Frank’s resolve to find hope and goodness in the face of unspeakable terror,” Finkel said at the ceremony.
Boston Common was chosen for its rich history of celebrating democracy and its other monuments to liberty, said Rebecca Faulkner, special projects manager for The Anne Frank Center USA.
Standing quietly among the throng of spectators was Rosian Zerner of Newton, who grew up in the Kovno Ghetto in Nazi-
occupied Lithuania. When she was 6, she escaped the ghetto when her parents dug a hole underneath a fence and told her to run while German soldiers were changing shifts.
Zerner, now 77, said she lives to spread her story. The new sapling, while still slight and tender, will help tell the story of the Holocaust as it grows, she said.
“This is one of the most emotional moments of my life,” she said between tears. “This tree will be a lesson in harmony and cooperation and tolerance.”
About 125 schoolchildren from Indian Head School in Hanson who helped raise funds for the planting were also on hand Tuesday.
When the ceremony ended, many of the students ran up to the tree, pressing their faces against the iron fence protecting the sapling.
The students helped raise $500, with the rest coming from private donors and the Menino administration, said Jacquelyn Goddard, spokeswoman for the Boston Parks and Recreation Department.
The Anne Frank Center, with funding from the Netherlands, will also plant saplings at 10 other sites, including Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, the Holocaust Memorial Center in Michigan, and The White House.
Ludwick Szymanski, 81, a Boston doctor who as a boy during the Holocaust hid in the Polish countryside and in Warsaw to avoid capture, watched the ceremony from the grass.
Walking through the crowd later taking photos and wearing a pin emblazoned with the words “never forget,” Szymanski said the sapling represented a powerful symbol of progress.
“No matter what, people who hate other people will lose,” he said. “No matter what you do, tolerance will grow,” he added.