(Adds details, quotes from court hearing)
By Gilbert Kreijger
AMSTERDAM, Nov 20 (Reuters) - A Dutch court granted a reprieve on Tuesday to the chestnut tree that comforted Anne Frank as she hid from the Nazis, ruling in favour of conservationists who want to stop it being felled.
Judge J. Bade said city officials should look into ways to save the 150-year-old tree and not proceed with plans to chop it down on Wednesday despite their fears it could topple over as a fungal disease has spread through most of the trunk.
The Tree Foundation, a group of tree conservationists, had sought the injunction against the felling, saying independent stability tests indicated the 27-tonne chestnut was still safe.
The Tree Foundation’s Edwin Koot welcomed the decision: "The worldwide attention for this tree shows how important this tree of Anne Frank is," he told Reuters.
The Amsterdam council was swamped with messages of protest from around the world after it ordered the felling last week when tests on the trunk showed that about three-quarters of the chestnut is diseased and it could fall in a storm.
Judge Bade, whose first name was not given by the court, visited the tree himself on Tuesday before making his ruling. He said he was not convinced it posed an imminent threat.
He said city officials, the tree’s owner, the Anne Frank museum and conservationists should meet to discuss the tree and come to a decision on its future within 10 weeks.
The Tree Foundation presented the court with plans to support the tree by attaching it to the Anne Frank museum with steel cables, which it said would cost only a few thousand euros and could prolong the life of the chestnut by decades.
SICK AND DYING
But Hans Westra, director of the Anne Frank foundation, said he was worried the tree could still fall into the museum, which draws almost one million visitors a year, and said he would rather it was cut down and replaced with a graft of the original.
"This tree is so sick and dying that it is a threat to buildings and people working there. I prefer living trees," he told journalists outside the court.
"If we have a young sapling, in 10 years there will be a tree 10 metres high. It will be a child of the Anne Frank tree."
The tree stands in a walled courtyard behind the canalside warehouse where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis until 1944. The young girl often gazed at the tree from the stuffy secret annex, mentioning it several times in her diary.
"Our chestnut tree is in full blossom. It is covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year," she wrote, three months before being betrayed and arrested in August 1944.
The Frankfurt-born Jewish teenager spent two years in hiding with seven others in the annex above her father’s warehouse, its entrance concealed behind a movable bookcase.
Anne and her sister Margot died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945, just a few weeks before it was liberated. Her diary became one of the world’s most widely read books after publication in 1947. (Editing by Tim Pearce)