Six Mil­lion Paper Clips: The Mak­ing of a Chil­dren’s Holo­caust Memorial

Peter W. Schroed­er; Dag­mar Schroeder-Hildebrand
  • Review
By – August 6, 2012

Whitwell, Ten­nessee is a small town nes­tled in the Sequatchie Val­ley near Chat­tanooga. With a pop­u­la­tion of only 1,600 peo­ple, it is a very homo­ge­neous com­mu­ni­ty, as there are no Catholics, Mus­lims, Jews or for­eign­ers. Lin­da Hoop­er, the prin­ci­pal of Whitwell Mid­dle School, felt this was a seri­ous dis­ad­van­tage for her stu­dents: if every­body in the com­mu­ni­ty had sim­i­lar back­grounds, how would these emerg­ing teens learn to cope in the real world, espe­cial­ly if they encoun­tered peo­ple who were dif­fer­ent? In 1998, Hoop­er decid­ed to launch a vol­un­teer, after-school project where, under the direc­tion of eighth grade teacher San­dra Roberts, the stu­dents would learn about the mean­ing of the Holo­caust and intol­er­ance. To grasp the idea of six mil­lion, the num­ber of Jew­ish vic­tims of the Holo­caust, the stu­dents decid­ed they need­ed a visu­al for this incom­pre­hen­si­ble num­ber and chose to col­lect paper clips. This was the per­fect item, since they found in their research that dur­ing the war, paper clips were worn by non-Jew­ish Nor­we­gians on their lapels as a sign of silent protest. As the stu­dents began gath­er­ing paper clips and exhaust­ed their own fam­i­lies’ col­lec­tions, a web­site was cre­at­ed to ask for help. Two Ger­man reporters picked up the sto­ry of these extra­or­di­nary stu­dents, and the paper clip” project became big­ger than life. Paper clips came pour­ing in with let­ters, poems, draw­ings, and art­works. The chil­dren final­ly reached their goal and even­tu­al­ly col­lect­ed over 30 mil­lion paper clips, and want­ed nev­er to for­get what this emo­tion­al, eye-open­ing expe­ri­ence had taught them. After a painstak­ing search, a Ger­man rail­car used to trans­port Jews to the camps was found and shipped to Whitwell; six mil­lion of the paper clips are housed in the rail­car and serve as a liv­ing memo­r­i­al to all who were lost under the tyran­ny of the Nazi regime. Ded­i­cat­ed on Nov. 2, 2001 as the Children’s Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al, many school groups have vis­it­ed this site and learn from the Whitwell stu­dents what they can do to com­bat intolerance. 

This small, non-fic­tion gem, which at first appears very sim­ple, is mul­ti-lay­ered and com­plex. A sin­gle idea from a small town grew from a tiny trick­le to a project that criss­crossed the nation and made quite an impact on the world. Illus­trat­ed with many pho­tographs of the town of Whitwell, the stu­dents involved with this project, and var­i­ous arti­facts, it is dif­fi­cult to read this book and be unmoved. With con­trast­ing bright orange, black and white pages, the text is artis­ti­cal­ly arranged and very invit­ing. An added sym­bol­ic ele­ment of inter­est is the edge of each page, which is dec­o­rat­ed with paper clips; at the begin­ning of the book there is only one, but by the end there is a whole chain that runs the bot­tom of the page! An index, list of all stu­dents involved, and short biogra­phies of all the teach­ers help to bring depth to the sto­ry. Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 8 – 14.

Debra Gold has been a children’s librar­i­an for over 20 years in the Cuya­hoga Coun­ty Pub­lic Library Sys­tem. An active mem­ber of the ALA, she has served on many com­mit­tees includ­ing the Calde­cott, New­bery and Batchelder committees.

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