The giant chestnut tree in Amsterdam that cheered Anne Frank while she was in hiding from the Nazis has finally been toppled by wind and heavy rain.
The once mighty tree, now diseased and rotten through the trunk, snapped about three feet above ground yesterday and crashed across several gardens. It damaged a brick wall and several sheds, but nearby buildings - including the Anne Frank House Museum - were unscathed..
"Someone yelled, 'It's falling. The tree is falling,' and then you heard it go down," said museum spokeswoman Maatje Mostart. "Luckily no-one was hurt."
The tree was one of the few signs of nature visible to the Jewish teenager from the attic where she hid for more than two years during the Second World War. She died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. The diary, recovered after the war, became a world-wide best seller
"Our chestnut tree is in full blossom. It is even more beautiful than last year," she wrote in May 1944, not long before she was betrayed to the Nazis.
In 2007, a global campaign to save the chestnut, widely known as the Anne Frank Tree, when city officials deemed it a safety hazard and ordered it to be felled, won it a reprieve after a battle in court.
The 150-year-old tree suffered from fungus and moths had caused more than half its trunk to rot. Two years ago workmen encased it in steel supports to prevent it from falling.
The Netherlands' Trees Institute, one of the most prominent supporters of the preservation project, said it was "unpleasantly surprised" by the news of the tree's fall yesterday afternoon.
"On the advice of experts in tree care, it had been calculated that the tree could live several more decades" with the support structure, the institute said. "Alas, in the event it seems that nature is stronger."
Many clones of the tree have been taken, including 150 planted in an Amsterdam park. It is not clear whether a new tree will replace the original, as it is on a neighbour's property.
Anne Frank made several references to the tree in the diary that she kept during the 25 months she remained indoors until her family was arrested in August 1944.
"Nearly every morning I go to the attic to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs," she wrote on 23 February, 1944.
"From my favourite spot I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind."