POPLAR RIDGE | A tiny, nondescript tree sapling sat on stage in the Southern Cayuga High School auditorium Monday morning.
The students bustling in were aware that a grand legacy lies within the sapling — that of Anne Frank, the Jewish teenager who hid with her family from the Nazis in an attic for more than two years before being discovered and taken to a concentration camp, where she died.
Frank had looked out her window while she hid and watched the seasons change on the leaves on a chestnut tree. That tree, in Amsterdam, had begun to die when saplings were taken from it and sent to various sites throughout the world.
The Southern Cayuga Central School District is now the owner of one of those saplings, after an application process and waiting for the sapling to go through quarantine. A June 12 planting is planned.
Teacher William Zimpfer opened the assembly with a few words about Anne Frank and how influential her diary was.
"A 13- and 14-year-old girl changed the world with her diary, although she's not alive to see what it did," he said.
He also talked about how the chestnut tree outside her window was an inspiration to her.
"This tree was one of her connections to the outside world," he said.
Lore Jacobs, whose 89th birthday is Wednesday, and her daughter Gale Halpern spoke to students Monday about Jacobs' own story. She was born in Frankfurt, like Frank, and both girls grew up Jewish in mixed neighborhoods. Both were also victims of discrimination, but Jacobs was able to escape Germany through a program called the Kindertransport.
This program matched German children 17 and younger with British families or hostels that would sponsor the children and save them from death or concentration camps or the other fates that awaited Jews in Nazi Germany.
Halpern read her mother's story and also talked about Frank's story to show context — the two different paths the girls' lives took. Halpern also read her mother's message to Southern Cayuga students.
"By applying for and planting this tree, your actions fill me with great hope," her daughter read for her. "Your school is highlighting how important it is to continue the fight against hatred and intolerance in this world; and to recognize the need to look beyond our differences and find the good in all people."
Students talked to Jacobs and Halpern after the assembly, where they were set up with books of old photos and documents from the war.
"I almost try to put myself back then and think of what I would have done and what my experience using my own personal take would have been," said junior Elle Miller. "I feel like I can sometimes take for granted what I have and what I've grown up with — even emotional stability."
Junior Karli Gasteiger agreed that the society we live in is a gift, although it's easy to take it for granted.
"One of my best friends, he's Jewish, and it makes me very emotional knowing that this is his culture's history," Gasteiger said. "We're lucky to know and carry on the history."