Stories & Reflections
By Paulo Coelho
In 1939 the Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who was posted in Lithuania during one of the most dreadful periods ever known to mankind, saved thousands of Polish Jews from the Nazi menace by granting them exit visas.
His act of heroism was an obscure footnote in the history of the war until the survivors saved by Sugihara decided to tell their story. His courage and grandeur were soon celebrated by all, drawing the attention of the media and inspiring some authors to write books describing him as “the Japanese Schindler.”
Meanwhile the Israeli government collected the names of the saviors in order to reward them for their efforts. One of the ways in which that the Jewish state tried to show their indebtedness towards these heroes was to plant trees in homage to them. When Sugihara’s courage was disclosed, the Israeli authorities planned to plant the customary cluster of cherry trees – the national tree of Japan – in his memory.
All of a sudden an unheard-of decision was made and the order revoked. They decided that cherry trees were inadequate as a symbol of the bravery displayed by Sugihara and opted for a wood of cedars, a tree of greater vigor and with more sacred connotations for having been used in the First Temple.
Only after the trees were planted did the authorities find out that “Sugihara” in Japanese may be written as … cedar forest.
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