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Honoring a Japanese diplomat who saved thousands

Carmel Academy in Greenwich marked Holocaust Remembrance Day with a unique program that brought together two schools and two cultures to honor an unsung hero of the Holocaust – former Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, whose actions saved the lives of 6,000 Jews.

Carmel Academy alumni parent and former Board member Beth Boyer unveils a plaque honoring Japanese Holocaust hero Chiune Sugihara.

Carmel Academy alumni parent and former Board member Beth Boyer unveils a plaque honoring Japanese Holocaust hero Chiune Sugihara.

In the fall of 1939, as Jews across Eastern Europe faced extermination, Sugihara, Japanese Consul General in Lithuania, defied his government – and sacrificed his career – by writing thousands of transit visas that enabled hundreds of Jewish families to flee Europe to safe havens abroad.

Carmel Academy, which leases part of its campus to the Greenwich Japanese School, brought the students from both schools together to honor this Japanese hero – a Righteous Among Nations – to learn together and create a memorial in his honor. In preparation for the program, 5th-8th  grade students at both schools learned about Sugihara.

Rabbi Yossi Deren of Greenwich Chabad and his wife Maryashie spoke to the students about their own families’ experiences – both their grandfathers escaped Lithuania through transit visas issued to them by Sugihara.

“The story of Sugihara is one of incredible sacrifice,” Deren told the 125 students gathered in attendance. Deren’s brother married a woman whose grandfather was saved by Sugihara, as did his wife’s brother and sister-in-law.

“There is no question today that if you could count the people alive in the world because of Sugihara you will find tens of thousands who owe their lives to him,” he said. In fact, it is estimated that at least 40,000 people owe their existence due to Sugihara’s heroism.

Students from Carmel Academy and Greenwich Japanese School set their handprints in cement, as part of a memorial honoring Holocaust hero Chiune Sugihara.

Students from Carmel Academy and Greenwich Japanese School set their handprints in cement, as part of a memorial honoring Holocaust hero Chiune Sugihara.

During the program, which was in English, with simultaneous translation into Japanese, students worked jointly to create a memorial in the school courtyard, decorating rocks with chrysanthemums – the imperial seal of Japan. The rocks were embedded into a cement memorial, surrounding the handprints of students from both schools. The students also wrote thank you letters to Sugihara that will buried in a genizah (holy burial) with other holy objects to acknowledge Sugihara’s great mitzvah. In a formal dedication, the students and faculty unveiled a plaque donated by Carmel alumni parent and Board member Beth Boyer. The students ended the program by singing a song of peace, “Oseh Shalom.”

“When I heard about Sugihara, I thought, ‘Wow – he is such an unsung hero.’ I am honored to pay tribute to him,” said Carmel Academy sixth grader Matthew Loren.

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