Paper Clips

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The Paper Clips Project is a project by middle school students from the small southeastern Tennessee city of Whitwell who created a monument for the Holocaust victims in Nazi Germany. It started in 1998 as a simple 8th-grade project and evolved into one gaining worldwide attention. At last count, over 30 million paper clips had been received.  Paper Clips, an award-winning documentary film about the project, was released in 2004 byMiramax Films.

In 1998 Whitwell Middle School principal Linda M. Hooper asked Sandra Roberts to begin a Holocaust Education class that would be the basis for teaching tolerance in a voluntary afterschool program.  Sandra Roberts held the first class in the fall of 1998. Soon the students were overwhelmed with the massive scale of the Holocaust and asked Mrs. Hooper if they could collect something to represent the lives that were exterminated during the Holocaust. Mrs. Hooper responded that they could if they could find something that related to the Holocaust or to World War II. Through Internet studies, the students discovered that Johan Vaaler designed a loop of metal, that he was Jewish, Norwegian, and the Norwegians wore them on their lapels during WWII as a silent protest against Nazi policies.

The students decided to collect 6,000,000 paper clips to represent the estimated 6,000,000 Jews killed between 1939 and 1945 under the authority of the Nazi government of Adolf Hitler. At first the project went slowly, as it did not gain much publicity. Students created a website and sent out letters to friends, family and celebrities. The project began to snowball after it received attention from Peter and Dagmar Schroeder, journalists who were born in Germany during World War II and who cover the White House for German newspapers. They published some articles as well as a book, Das Büroklammer-Projekt (The Paper Clip Project,) published in September 2000, that promoted the project in Germany. The big break in the US came with an article in the Washington Post on April 7, 2001, written by Dita Smith. After the article, many more paper clips were being sent.  Soon, millions of paper clips started to flood the school.

The documentary film about the project was officially released in 2004. Joe Fab of The Johnson Group, who eventually became the producer, director, and writer, initially started to think about making a movie.

However, it looked more like a story for a TV magazine. He filmed as several Holocaust survivors from New York visited the school and shared their experiences with the community at a church. Out of this footage, he made a raw seven-minute presentation. With help from Ergo Entertainment and its partners Donny Epstein, Yeeshai Gross and Elie Landau (who joined the project as executive producers), this “demo” helped to convince the Miramax film company that this project was worth a full-length movie. It was described as not yet another movie showing the tragedy, but a project of  hope and inspiration.

The movie features interviews with students, teachers, Holocaust survivors, and people who sent paper clips. It also shows how the railcar traveled from Germany to Baltimore, and then Whitwell.

The creators had accumulated about 150 hours of footage. The movie was shown for the first time in November 2003 in Whitwell.

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