In 1998 eighth grade students at Whitwell Middle School began an
after-school study of the Holocaust. The goal of this study
was to teach students the importance of respecting different
cultures as well as understanding the effects of intolerance.
As the study progressed, the sheer number of Jews who were
exterminated by the Nazis overwhelmed the students. Six
million was a number that the students could not remotely
grasp. The students asked Sandra Roberts and David Smith if
they could collect something to help them understand the enormity
of this extermination. The teachers told the students to ask
permission of principal, Linda M. Hooper. She gave the
students permission to begin a collection, IF, they could find
something to collect that would have meaning to the project.
After some research on the Internet, the students decided to
collect paper clips because they discovered that 1) Joseph
Valler, a Norwegian Jew is credited as having invented the paper
clip and 2) that Norwegians wore them on their lapels as a silent
protest against Nazi occupation in WWII.
Students began bringing in paper clips. They wrote letters
to famous people asking for a paper clip. The students also
asked people to share their reasons for sending a paper clip.
To date over 30 million paperclips have been sent to Whitwell
Middle School. In addition, the project has received 30
thousand + letters, documents, books, and artifacts. All of
these have been counted and catalogued by students and are on
display in the Children's Holocaust Memorial Research Room located
at the school.
The paper clip collection has become a part of the "Children's
Holocaust Memorial" created by the students, staff, and community
of Whitwell Middle School. The Memorial contains 11 million
paper clips housed in an authentic German transport car honoring
the lives of all people murdered by the Nazis. And eleven
million other paper clips are contained in a monument honoring the
children of the Holocaust. Orginally, eighteen (for
chai-Hebrew for life) butterflies (the Christian symbol of renewal
and the Children of Terezine) enhanced the grounds around the
rail car. Over the years, visitors have left several more
butterflies. The students, staff, and community of Whitwell
Middle School have transformed the car from a death car into a
symbol of renewed life honoring the lives of those murdered by the
Nazis. For generations of Whitwell students, a paper clip
will never again be just a paper clip. Instead, the paper
clip is a reminder of the importance of perseverance, empathy,
tolerance, and understanding.