Players: Arnold Heertje, board member of the Support Anne Frank Tree foundation; Rob Van der Leij, former fellow board member and contractor hired by the foundation to build a metal structure around the tree outside the home that hid Anne Frank and her family for two years during the Holocaust.
The dying tree fell over in August after a storm. Heertje and fellow Support Anne Frank Tree foundation board members blame Van der Leij, accusing him of doing a shoddy job on the metal structure he built to keep the tree in place. According to The New York Times
, group members decided at an emergency meeting after the tree fell that "Mr. Vand der Leij knew immediately that the structure's failure was his fault, and that he wanted to remove the evidence as quickly as possible." Though Van der Leij insists that he and the group agreed that he should clear away the fallen tree, he was met with unexpected outrage when it was actually removed.
"Mr. Van der Leij called another meeting to protest, and said that Mr. Heertje, who was not present at the previous meeting, reacted angrily, drawing comparisons to Auschwitz and the gas chambers," the Times reports. "In a private meeting, he said, Mr. Heertje warned him to drop the issue and threatened to make use of his contacts in the news media. Mr. Heertje denies both claims."
SAFT provided pictures of the failed brace on its website
, referencing an investigation by the insurance company that paid for the structure and an engineering firm that "concluded that the welds of the construction connected to the deep set foundation were poorly made and substadard," they write. "One welder who simply glanced at the construction and foundation immediately after the collapse of the tree could see the welds were bad. He was interviewed by NOS Radio 1 and said 'it's absolutely clear: the welds were done by a amateur. Totally unprofessional, completely ridiculous! The SAFT is holding the company who built the structure responsible."
Return Volley: Van der Leij fired back at the foundation, demanding payment for the cost of removing the tree, and filing two law suits: one for libel and one for the $50,000 the group still owed him. "There are only losers in this story. But I feel my integrity at stake," Van der Leij told The New York Times' Amsterdam Journal. "I don't care about the money. ... Now they are saying I'm a bad guy and I'm stealing Jewish cultural heritage. It is a failure of morality."
Van der Leij has held on to the tree, which he is legally allowed to do until he receives payment from SAFT.
What They Say the Fight's About: The Support Anne Frank Tree foundation "accuse[s] Van der Leij of botching the job and killing the tree, and then stealing the tree's remains and leaving them to rot instead of distributing them to the Jewish museums and other institutions around the world that would like to have them," the Times article explains. Van der Leij, on the other hand, insists that he had no intention of harming the tree and that he has been in contact with museums and organizations where the SAFT foundation wants to send the tree's remains.
What the Fight's Really About:
It is clear why the Support Anne Frank Tree foundation exists and is so insistent on preserving the one piece of nature Frank was exposed to during her two years of hiding in that Amsterdam attic. Still, we wonder if the group might not be a bit paranoid, since Van der Leij isn't the first person they've accused of ulterior motives in regards to the tree. For example
, from their website:
In 2006, the Amsterdam City Centre Borough announced that the tree was so diseased that it had to be cut. Strange to say, this conclusion was solely based on an inspection by the tree management company Pius Floris Amsterdam that worked for the Borough. Requests for a second opinion by various parties were resolutely turned down and later even obstructed. This led to doubts about the tree's actual health and rumors about hidden agendas that favour its felling."
We're have to wonder why the city of Amsterdam would be motivated to cut down a relatively healthy tree that's, presumably, quite a tourist attraction. The New York Times also notes that the tree "was more than 150 years old and suffering from a fungal infection."
Who's Winning Now: Like Van der Leij said, "there are only losers in this story." For now, at least. The Support Anne Frank Tree foundation may have lost its battle to keep the tree standing. But, if it can come up with the money to pay Van der Leij for his work, the group will be able to send the tree wherever it wants to preserve its sentimental piece of history.