In 1998 Whitwell Middle School eighth-grade students began an after-school study of the Holocaust. The goal was for students to learn the importance of respecting different cultures while understanding the effects of intolerance. As the study progressed, students learned the Nazis exterminated six million Jews. The sheer number overwhelmed students; six million was not a number the students could even begin to grasp.
Students asked Sandra Roberts and David Smith about collecting something to show the enormity of this number. Principal Linda M. Hooper permitted the students to begin a collection IF they could find something to collect that would have meaning to the project. After some research, the students decided to collect paper clips after discovering Joseph Valler; a Norwegian Jew credited with inventing the paper clip. Norwegians wore paperclips on their lapels as a silent protest against Nazi occupation in WWII.
Students began bringing in paper clips. Letters were written to famous people asking for paper clips and stories of why people sent the paper clips. Over 30 thousand letters and over 30 million paper clips have been sent to Whitwell Middle School. Students have counted and cataloged each letter and paper clip, now known as the "Children's Holocaust Memorial." The Memorial contains 11 million paper clips housed in an authentic German transport car honoring the lives of all people murdered by the Nazis. Another eleven million paper clips are included in a monument honoring the children of the Holocaust. All letters, documents, books, and artifacts are displayed in the school's Children's Holocaust Memorial Artifact Library.
The students, staff, and community of Whitwell Middle School have transformed the car from a death car into a symbol of 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.