In March, members of the Rebecca Guild met to share light refreshments, and to watch a video about the Paper Clip Project. In 1998, eighth-grade students in the small town of Whitwell, Tennessee were studying the Holocaust. Whitwell is a former mining town with very little ethnic diversity, where most people get along well with their neighbors. So the students found it hard to understand how racial intolerance could lead to the wholesale slaughter of Jews. To help them grasp how many people had been exterminated by the Nazis, teachers at Whitwell Middle School allowed the students to try to collect six million paper clips. After a slow start, the project expanded outside Whitwell to other parts of the United States and to other countries. Eventually, the students collected more than 27 million paper clips. With the help of two German journalists, they obtained an authentic German cattle car (like the ones used during the war to take Jews to concentration camps) and turned it into the centerpiece of a “Children’s Holocaust Memorial.” There were too many paper clips to fit inside the rail car, so eleven million of them are contained in a monument honoring the children of the Holocaust. Both rail car and monument are surrounded by grounds decorated with butterflies – a symbol of life and hope. Many visitors have come to see the monument and talk with the Whitwell students, including a group of Holocaust survivors from New York City, who were welcomed by the whole community with hugs and tears.
On their website, Whitwell Middle School notes that, “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.”