Saturday, September 10, 2016
The small southern town of Whitwell made national headlines when a small school project grew into a major tribute to tolerance and a remembrance for the millions who died in Nazi concentration camps.
Whitwell is a small town in Marion County, TN. After the coal mines closed, the area became quite poor. What happened next may help change the perception of what rural life in the south is all about.
Without any indication of what was to come, it started simply enough in 1998 in a Whitwell Middle School History class discussing World War II. The teacher discussed how six million Jews were slaughtered in the Nazi camps and a student asked how big Six Million is. In a town of just a little over one thousand people, it's hard to imagine just how big six million really is. One student doing research discovered that people from Norway wore paper clips as a symbol of resistance against the Nazis.
The teacher thought it would be an interesting exercise to see if they could gather a few paper clips as a small sampling of how big six million could be. The students began a letter writing campaign asking various people to donate paper clips to the project. After a few thousand had come in, some reporters came to visit the school to see what was going on. Those reporters told about the school's project and told the story nationally. A couple of years after they had started, over 29 Million paper clips had been sent to the school.
The school began to ponder what they should do with all of the paper clips. A couple of Jewish reporters who stayed in contact with the school searched Germany and found a vintage rail car which had been used to transport Jewish captives to the camps. The railcar was transported by boat to Baltimore and CSX delivered the car to Chattanooga in 2001.
Many students and townspeople came together to make the memorial site a long-lasting tribute. 11 million of the paper clips were placed inside the rail car, remembering not only the Jews but all of the other groups that were also killed in the Nazi camps. This memorial was dedicated on Nov. 9, 2001.
A documentary was filmed about the project, a full length movie titled "Paper Clips." I highly recommend everyone interested in this memorial should see that film.