The Children's Holocaust Memorial - The Paper Clip Project
In 1998, Principal Linda M. Hopper, Vice-Principal David Smith, and eighth-grade teacher Sandra Roberts wanted children to learn about empathy and respect for different cultures. So they designed a course to teach students about the Holocaust and the six million Jews who perished. Six million was a hard number for the students to comprehend! So Ms. Roberts and her class decided they needed to collect six million of something. But what? The students learned that during World War II, the people of Norway wore paper clips on their lapels to protest the Nazi occupation. They also found out that the paper clip was invented by a Norwegian Jew. For those reasons, they decided to collect paper clips, with each clip representing a life lost.
Due to the hard work of the students and teachers, donations came in from school children, Holocaust survivors, celebrities—even United States presidents! The school met its goal of six million paper clips, and then collected five million more, dedicating them to the five million others killed by the Nazis, including individuals with disabilities, gay people, priests, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma people, and resistance fighters in occupied countries.
The school needed a place to store the paper clips. With the help of two White House correspondents, Whitwell staff and students obtained a German cattle car that Nazis had used to transport Jews to concentration camps, one of the few cars left from that era. Eleven million paper clips are stored in two glass cases situated on either end of the boxcar. As of the writing of this book, thirty-three million paper clips have been collected. Some of these clips have been distributed to other schools that have started their own paper clip projects.
The Children’s Holocaust Memorial, located on the school campus, receives visitors from around the world. Students give tours to school groups and individuals who visit the museum. Ms. Roberts is retiring at the end of the 2022 school year, but her legacy will continue. Taylor Kilgore, a former Whitwell student, received her master’s degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and will take over the program in the next school year.
How could such an amazing project happen in a small town? When I asked that question of Dr. Josh Holtcamp, the current school principal, he stated that Whitwell Middle School had already had a caring culture that allowed such a program to grow and flourish.
I decided to include the information about Whitwell Middle School in my children’s book because I believe it teaches a valuable lesson. As Ms. Roberts stated, “The Paperclip’s project has been one of the most powerful lessons I have ever designed and taught. Teaching children to understand the destructive force of hatred and evil will help future generations transition to powerfully empathetic leaders that will honor the past, shape the future, and change the world, even if it’s only one class at a time.”
To learn more about Whitwell Middle School’s project:
Read: Six Million Paper Clips: The Making of a Children’s Holocaust Memorial,
by Dagmar Schroeder-Hildebrand and Peter W. Schroeder
Watch: Paper Clips, available on DVD or Amazon Prime Video