Paper Clips Project
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The Paper Clips Project is a project by middle school students from the small southeastern Tennessee town of Whitwell who created a monument for the Holocaust victims in Nazi Germany. It started in 1998 as a simple 8th-grade project to teach them about other cultures and then evolved into one gaining worldwide attention. At last count, over 30 million paper clips had been received. Paper Clips, an award-winning documentary film about the project, was released in 2004 by Miramax Films.
In 1998 Whitwell Middle School principal Linda M. Hooper asked Sandra Roberts to begin a Holocaust Education class that would be the basis for teaching tolerance in a voluntary after-school program. Sandra Roberts held the first class in the fall of 1998. Soon the students were overwhelmed with the massive scale of the Holocaust and asked Mrs. Hooper if they could collect something to represent the lives that were exterminated during the Holocaust. Mrs. Hooper responded that they could if they could find something that related to the Holocaust or to World War II. Through Internet studies, the students discovered that Johan Vaaler, a Norwegian, designed a loop of metal, and the Norwegians wore paperclips on their lapels during World War II as a silent protest against Nazi occupation. The students decided to collect 6,000,000 paper clips to represent the estimated 6,000,000 Jews killed between 1939 and 1945 under the authority of the Nazi government of Adolf Hitler. At first the project went slowly, as it did not gain much publicity. Students created a website and sent out letters to friends, family and celebrities. The project began to snowball after it received attention from Peter and Dagmar Schroeder, journalists who were born in Germany during World War II and who cover the White House for German newspapers. They published some articles as well as a book, Das Büroklammer-Projekt (The Paper Clip Project) published in September 2000, that promoted the project in Germany. The big break in the US came with an article in the Washington Post on April 7, 2001, written by Dita Smith.
City of Whitwell
Almost all observers note the much unexpected location of the project. The small rural town Whitwell has about 1,600 residents and, according to the U.S. census, 97.35 percent of them are white. There was not a single Jew among the population of 425 students when the project began. Out of the 425 students that attend the school, there are only five African Americans and one Hispanic person.
About 40 miles away is the Rhea County Courthouse, where, in 1925, a teacher was convicted for teaching evolution during the Scopes "Monkey" Trial. The trial upheld a statute which outlawed teaching any theory that denies the Divine Creation. A hundred miles from Whitwell, in Pulaski, Tennessee, the infamous Ku Klux Klan was reportedly born.
The city is quite poor, as its main business, coal mining, started to decline after an accident 30 years ago; the last mine was shut down completely in 1997. About a half of the students at the Middle School qualify for the free lunch program, which is a benefit for lower income American school children.
Paper clips were chosen in part because some people from Norway wore them on their lapels as a symbol of resistance against Nazi occupation during World War II (Norwegian Johan Vaaler is often credited with the invention of the paper clip; while he did indeed invent a paper clip, it was not the type used today.)
The paper clips were sent by various people by mail; the letters came from about 20 different countries. Some celebrities, like George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Steven Spielberg, Tom Bosley and Tom Hanks were among those mailing in the clips. As of the summer of 2004, the school had collected about 24 million paper clips. As of 2005, more were still coming in. Most letters contain a story or a dedication of the attached paper clips to a certain person. Some of these stories are shared in the film.
The Children's Holocaust Memorial consists of an authentic German transport car (which arrived in Baltimore on September 9, 2001) surrounded by a small garden.The railcar is filled with 11 million paper clips (6 million for murdered Jews and 5 million for Gypsies, Catholics, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and other groups). The monument was uncovered on the anniversary of the Kristallnacht, November 9, 2001.
Eighteen butterflies sculptured of twisted copper are embedded in concrete around the railcar. Butterflies came from a poem written by a child who lived in Terezin concentration camp in 1942 (I Never Saw Another Butterfly) and the number 18 in Hebrew symbolizes life (in Gematria, 18 is the numerical value of the word חי, pronounced Chai, meaning life). Inside the railcar, besides the paper clips, there are the Schroeders’ book and a suitcase filled with letters of apology to Anne Frank by a class of German schoolchildren.
A sculpture designed by an artist from Ooltewah, Tennessee stands next to the car, memorializing the 1.5 million children murdered by the Nazis, incorporating another 11 million paper clips.
The documentary film about the project was officially released in 2004. Joe Fab of The Johnson Group, who eventually became the producer, director, and writer, initially started to think about making a movie. However, it looked more like a story for a TV magazine. He filmed as several Holocaust survivors from New York visited the school and shared their experiences with the community at a church. Out of this footage, he made a raw seven-minute presentation. With help from Ergo Entertainment and its partners Donny Epstein, Yeeshai Gross and Elie Landau (who joined the project as executive producers), this "demo" helped to convince the Miramax film company that this project was worth a full-length movie. It was described as not yet another movie showing the tragedy, but a project of hope and inspiration.
The movie features interviews with students, teachers, Holocaust survivors, and people who sent paper clips. It also shows how the railcar traveled from Germany to Baltimore, and then Whitwell. The creators had accumulated about 150 hours of footage. The movie was shown for the first time in November 2003 in Whitwell.
The movie has received many awards from many film festivals. Some of them include;
- The Palm Springs International Film Festival - the "Audience Favorite" award for "Best Documentary Feature"
- FilmFest D.C. - The Circle Audience Award for Best Film
- The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures - One of the Top Five Documentaries of 2004
- The 2004 World Cinema Naples Film Festival - The Audience Award for Best Documentary
- The 2004 Rome International Film Festival - The Audience Award for Best Overall Film, The Jury Award for Best American Documentary, The Jury Award for Best American Director and The Jerry Goldsmith Award for Best Original Music Score
- Six Million Paper Clips: The Making of A Children's Holocaust Memorial by Peter W. Schroeder/Dagmar Schroeder-Hildebrand, Kar-Ben Publishing, Minneapolis, MN, 2004 ISBN 1-58013-169-7
Ride to Remember
In 2006 the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance and Yidden on Wheels, a Toronto-based Jewish motorcycle club, organized a ride from points across North America to Whitwell, TN to commemorate the Paperclip Project and in honor of the Holocaust's victims. The ride was also a fundraiser for that school, with over $35,000 being raised to help the school buy Promethean boards, a next generation interactive blackboard.
Mitchell Belman, a Toronto-based filmmaker, captured the essence of this ride in his documentary Paper Clips: A Ride to Remember.
Expansion of the project
Wayne MacIntyre, a teacher from Herring Cove Junior High (Nova Scotia, Canada) took the idea from a US school and called it the Paperclips Extension Project. After coming back from a tour of the Holocaust concentration camps in Poland during 2006, MacIntyre wanted to undertake a project with his Herring Cove students that would help them understand the Second World War’s horrors. He decided to use a similar concept to that used by Whitwell Middle School in Tennessee. In 1998, students there placed millions of paper clips on a German transport car – each paperclip representing an individual murdered in the Holocaust. But MacIntyre wanted to make each paperclip visible. So he had his English students string them together and hang them from the ceiling in his classroom. In 2007 there are 100,000 paper clips in the room. Like hooking the paper clips together, MacIntyre started hooking other ideas together. Students had suggestions of their own and they began to add these to their paperclip room. When the project was finished, the room was a miniature museum with displays, posters and photographs on the walls. The students planned to open the museum for a day but ended up keeping it open for a few weeks. Members of the community would visit and walk through.
In the summer of 2008 MacIntyre presented his idea in Jerusalem during International Conference on the Holocaust and Education. One of the listeners was a young history teacher from Croatia. Miljenko Hajdarovic, a teacher at Senkovec Primary School, who started a project called “Classroom Holocaust Museum”. With a group of 25 pupils he collected 153.000 paper clips as a main exhibit in their small museum. The museum was opened on 27th of January 2009. The museum contained paper clip chains, photos, different objects connected with the subject (an old camera, a phone, broken glass as a symbol of Kristallnacht, a travel bag, bunch of shoes, a rice bowl as a symbol of the daily allowable amount of food...). On the day of the opening the students hosted Oto Konstein, a survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. His testimony was recorded and was distributed on DVD to 30 schools in Medjimurje County.
- Operation Paperclip
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- List of Holocaust films
- Whitwell, Tennessee
- Rome Film Festival
- Peter and Dagmar Schroeder. Das Büroklammer-Projekt ("The Paper Clip Project"), September 2000. ISBN 3-570-14607-3
- Peter and Dagmar Schroeder. Six Million Paper Clips: The Making of a Children’s Holocaust Memorial, November 2004. ISBN 1-58013-176-X
- Daniel H. Magilow. "Counting to Six Million: Collecting Projects and Holocaust Memorialization", Jewish Social Studies, Volume 14, Number 1, Fall 2007. pp. 23–39.