Paper clips and lives lost: Remembering the Holocaust

David Shapiro
Special to the News Tribune
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International Holocaust Remembrance Day is on Jan. 27 this year.  On this annual day of commemoration, we are urged to honor those who lost their lives during the Nazi regime.  

The Holocaust started in 1938 and did not end until after World War II in 1945. At that time, doctors and others involved in the Holocaust atrocities were brought to trial for the horrific crimes they committed against fellow humans.

How many Jewish men, women, and children were exterminated in the Holocaust? Six million. But the Nazis did not just kill Jewish people; they killed political opponents, Socialists, Communists, handicapped people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and any others who didn’t believe in or didn’t fit into their ideology of a super race.  

There were actually 11 million victims put to death by Adolf Hitler and his regime.

I encourage you to read the book titled “Six Million Paper Clips: The Making of a Children’s Holocaust Memorial,” by Peter W. Schroeder and Dagmar Schroeder-Hildebrand. It tells the story and helps to put it in perspective but is very inspiring in how we can appreciate diversity.

What is the connection between paper clips and the Jewish people who lost their lives during the Holocaust? Back in the times when the Holocaust occurred, paper clips were worn by Norwegians on their lapels as a sign of resistance against the Nazi regime. For the Whitwell Middle School Paper Clip Project, each paper clip represented one person who lost their life in the Holocaust. By using paper clips to represent each person, the children of Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, Tennessee, were able to comprehend how big the number six million was.  

The principals, teachers, parents, and students at Whitwell Middle School got the ball rolling. As you can imagine, this was not an easy project. Just think if you tried to collect six million of anything. It would be difficult to reach that number, let alone get to 11 million to honor all lives lost during the Holocaust.

The students began writing letters to sports heroes, politicians, movie stars, business and industry representatives, and others, asking for their help. The response they received was amazing. Their project gained worldwide attention, from small communities to high leaders. Over several years, people sent thousands and thousands of paper clips. The students organized a system to deal with the barrage of mail they received.  Some logged the letters and stored the paper clips in boxes after counting each paper clip received.

The staff and students at Whitwell Middle School reported that once they collected their six million paper clips, they would make a monument. Well, they surpassed their goal and made their monument. On the website oneclipatatime.org, they report that in 2001, the school was able to develop a Children’s Holocaust Memorial, to include an authentic German railcar filled with some of the more than 30 million paper clips they collected. Their work has inspired others to conduct similar projects.

I encourage you to read more about this… it is amazing what a small group of individuals did to symbolize and memorialize lives lost during the Holocaust and teach students about diversity. The book is available at the Westernport Library, Piedmont Library, or Keyser Library. You can also watch the Elliot Berlin and Joe Fab documentary titled “Paper Clips” that describes and highlights the Whitwell Middle School’s Paper Clip Project.

There is so much we can learn from this.  Even though the task of collecting six million paper clips seemed insurmountable, they never gave up. That is a lesson for all of us. We may face many challenges in our lives - some that seem impossible to overcome – but with faith, hope, and persistence, we can prevail.