The towering tree is believed to have been Adolf Hitler's gift to the occupied town of Jaslo, planted to the sound of a Nazi band during World War II.
Town authorities now want it cut down and burned to make way for a new roundabout. But some residents have become attached to the 40-foot (12-meter) oak and are lobbying to save it. "The tree has not hurt anyone and is not guilty of anything," protest organizer Kazimierz Polak said, adding that his group was appealing to local and regional authorities to preserve the tree. "It is growing healthy and tall. Let it grow."
But Mayor Maria Kurowska said it was a reminder of Jaslo's connection to Hitler, whose Nazi troops razed the town in late 1944 as the Soviet Army advanced.
"It's only a tree; we have hundreds of them here," Kurowska said. "Instead, I can plant trees in honor of Hitler's victims." The tree also interferes with a planned roundabout that would increase road safety, she said, explaining why authorities were only now looking to have to removed.
But the mayor said she had received e-mails and letters from residents both for and against saving the oak.
Polak said he remembers the tiny tree arriving in April 1942 in a box wrapped in the Nazis' swastika flag. It was a gift from Hitler on his birthday and came from the Austrian city of Braunau am Inn, where the Nazi leader was born in 1889.
With two friends, Polak watched German authorities plant the tree with great pomp, part of an effort to "Germanize" the town, he said.
Two years later as the Red Army approached, the Nazis ordered that the town be evacuated and looted, according to historians. By the time they left, only 39 of the town's more than 1,200 houses remained.
Polak, now 81 years old, is the town's source for information about the tree's provenance. The mayor noted that he is active in studying Jaslo's history and there is no reason to doubt his account.
Nevertheless, she said she was not convicted the tree should be spared. The town will decide within weeks about the proposed roundabout.
"You plant trees in honor of truly great people, like John Paul II," she said. "If we keep it, we will walk in the city center remembering this is Hitler's tree."