Paper Clip Project
Listen to Principal Linda Hooper from the Whitwell Middle School, part of the Marion County Tennesee School system, interviewed by Stephanie Abrams on September 01, 2009, commercial free.
Visit the Marion County Tennesee School general website at www.marionschools.org
Visit the Whitwell Middle School webpage at www.marionschools.org/whitwell.htm
Visit the new Whitwell Middle School webpage at http://188.8.131.52/
More info on the Paper Clip Project is available at the Whitwell Middle School website at http://paperclipproject.org
Online Exclusive Interview!
Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams talks with Linda Hooper, Principal of Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, Tennessee, in this Travelers411 Online Exclusive Interview. Whitwell Middle School is home of the Paper Clip Project, in which students collected over 6 million paper clips in remembrance of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The project also acquired a Torah from Eastern Europe and an authentic German transport train car that carried Jews to concentration and labor camps.
Whitwell is between Chattanooga (to the east) and Nashville (to the west). "Tennessee is a state filled with history, charm, natural beauty, and entertainment, but you may want to stop and visit this thought-provoking memorial," Stephanie says. Since Whitwell is a community where 72% of people live below the poverty line, Stephanie wonders how they managed to acquire the train car.
Linda explains that a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor discovered the Paper Clip Project and passed it on to Peter and Dagmar Schroeder. "At the time, the Schroeders worked for a German newspaper syndicate but were stationed in Washington, D.C.," she says. "They came to Whitwell, fell in love with the children, saw that they got the 6 million paper clips, and made it their mission to secure the German transport car."
The Paper Clip Project began as a way to teach students about the effects of hate and intolerance. "Our community is pretty homogenous; most of the kids are white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. So we decided to do a study of the Holocaust, the worst act of hate and intolerance," Linda explains. "In doing that, the children discovered that the invention of paper clips is credited to a Norwegian Jewish gentleman called Johan Vaaler. The Norwegian people wore paper clips on their lapels to protest Nazi policy. So what better way to memorialize 6 million people than by collecting paper clips?"
Word spread about the project and Whitwell Middle School began receiving paper clips. "When the clips came in, they were often attached to pieces of paper with information about someone who was lost: a brother, sister, parent, friend, spouse, or child," Linda says. "So as each paper clip arrived, it had a note attached representing an individual, a story." Students began reading and cataloguing the letters before and after school, sometimes as early as 5:30 AM and as late as 10 PM.
After Peter and Dagmar Schroeder visited Whitwell, the couple decided to take 5 weeks of unpaid leave from their jobs and headed to Europe in search of the transport car. After they found a car in former East Germany, they convinced friends and family to donate enough money to purchase it. Next, they convinced the German railway to carry the car for free to the port, where they persuaded the German navy to carry the car for free on a ship headed for the States. "The ship the navy had leased was actually a Norwegian vessel called Blue Sky," Linda notes.
Once the car arrived in Baltimore, port workers donated their time to load it onto a CSX Railroads rail car for transport to Chattanooga. In Chattanooga, a trucking company that employed a student's mother stepped up to donate the truck transport to Whitwell. In Whitwell, B&B Crane donated the use of a crane to lift the car off the truck and onto rails at the memorial site. "All of this was free of charge," Linda says. "There's a Yiddish word, bashert, which means 'meant to be.' I think this project was bashert."
She notes that there are no Jewish families in the Sequatchie Valley, where Whitwell is located. Stephanie thinks this is an important point to make. "Here is this Christian community with the most amazing heart," she says. "The whole value here is the involvement of everyone in the community. If you drop a pebble in water, you never know where the ripples will go." Indeed, the Paper Clips Project inspired other projects, including Pennies for Peace, which collected a penny for each child under 14 murdered by the Nazis—a total of 1.5 million pennies.
The entire Whitwell community got involved, too. "Our churches just wrapped themselves around this," Linda says. "They did all the work for the dedication of the car, which included making over 3,000 cookies." She hopes listeners will look around in their own communities and realize that they, too, can take action to stop hate and intolerance. "If children in Whitwell with no resources can create a memorial like this, what could happen if everyone decided to make the world a better place? Can you imagine what kind of movement we could have?" she asks.
To learn more, Stephanie suggests watching the films "Paper Clips," a documentary about the Whitwell project, or "Schindler's List," about one man's work saving others during the Holocaust.
For more information visit http://www.paperclipproject.org