AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – The chestnut tree that gave Anne Frank a link to the outside world while she hid from the Nazis won a reprieve Tuesday when a judge ordered the city to reconsider whether the diseased tree can be saved.
Judge Jurjen Bade adjourned a hearing and took witnesses and court officials with him to inspect the tree, watching as experts tapped its trunk to point out the rotten wood afflicted by fungus.
He listened to experts from both sides, and looked to see what might be crushed if the tree fell, including the nearby Anne Frank House museum, which includes the apartment where the Jewish teenager and her family hid from the Nazis for 25 months during World War II.
Anne Frank referred to the tree several times in her diary. She could see the tree through the attic skylight, the only window that wasn't blacked out.
The city ruled last year that the tree, estimated to be 150 to 170 years old, was in danger of toppling and causing serious injury or damage. Conservationists argued that it was strong enough to withstand a storm and could be saved. Last week, the city issued the order to fell the tree.
Reconvening in his courtroom after the inspection, Bade ruled that the city had given insufficient consideration to alternative plans, such as anchoring the tree with cables. He said the city had failed to prove the tree was an imminent threat.
Felling the chestnut would be "a last resort," he said, and told the city to meet with conservationists to find a solution.
In testimony Tuesday, the Netherlands' Trees Institute argued to save the tree.
"This is a monumental tree of unusual cultural and historical value," institute spokesman Edwin Koot testified. "It's a symbol of freedom all over the world and it summons forth a lot of emotion, as you can see."
The Anne Frank House, which had remained neutral until Tuesday, told the judge it favored cutting the tree, out of concern for the safety of the building and the hundreds of thousands of people who visit it each year.
Museum director Hans Westra said if the tree remains standing he would take legal action to ensure that Henric Pommes, who owns the property where the tree stands, is held liable in case of injury or damage.
The museum has taken grafts of the tree to try to replace it with a sapling from the original.
"We would rather have a young living tree that will be about 30 feet tall in 10 years," Westra said.
The Frank family was arrested in August 1944. Anne died in a Nazi concentration camp eight months later at age 15, but her diary was rescued and has been read by millions.