In 1998, a small town in the hills of Tennessee started on a journey to learn about the Holocaust. What they ended up with inspired the world.
On Sunday, April 8th, I was invited to hear a talk at my synagogue with David Smith, the Assistant Principal of the Whitwell Middle School in Tennessee. His talk was about the journey of collecting over 26 millon paperclips to remember the Holocaust. The story was made into an award winning documentary called Paper Clips.
This was an amazing story of a small rural town where a small school project grew into a worldwide campaign to create awareness remember the holocaust.
How did a town where there were no Jewish people, 100 miles from where the Ku Klux Klan was founded, no knowledge of the holocaust, become a worldwide inspiration and experts on the subject. David Smith told our group he attended an education conference in Colorado. One of the things he learned was how to bring a program to educate students on the holocaust back to his town. He understood that being in a poor rural town which is less than 100 miles from where the Ku Klux Clan was founded he would need to include the parents too.
An after school class was given on the holocaust and the parent's of the students needed to attend also. Over time they met and discussed the topic. At one point in the discussion, a student said he could not imagine what six million looked like.
They studied how Norwegian's would put a paperclip on their lapel during WWII to remember the Jewish people they knew who were taken away by the Nazis.
So, the students decided they would collect six million paperclips. Most people including teachers might have discouraged this as "chasing a dream". So they decided to start collecting..Initially they spent time collecting and received around 300,000 paperclips in the first year. They realized it might take them a lifetime to collect 6 million. All of a sudden, a reporter from a major newspaper came to do a story on the school and the story was picked up in Newspaper and press around the country. One day during spring break, the assistant principal, got a call from the post office and told him he better bring a truck to get the mail. There were over 16 cartons of mail from around the world. This continued every day for months. Eventually, the school collect over 26 millon paperclips.
They needed a place to show ro store the paperclips and they sought out an actual "rail car" from Germany. This again was an adventure to optain the rail car and it finally made its way to Whitwell, TN, where today it has become a holocaust museum.
It is now about eight years since the start of the project. The students, who never had a chance to travel or go to college are not asked to fly to various events around the world.
More projects were inspired around the US and around the world and a second documentary movie is in the works on these.
I have told David Smith, that I would help him with some of the technology I work with as part of my eWarrior and to help bring Toastmasters to his school and town.