When I saw the documentary movie, Paper Clips some years ago, (a MUST SEE – on circuit in South Africa at the Art Nouveau and also on DSTV in 2011), I made myself a promise: to make contact with Linda Hooper, the then headmistress of Whitwell Middle School, to meet her and visit the Children’s Holocaust Memorial they’ve built there out of a project started in 1998. After watching that documentary, I was extremely pertinacious about meeting these people and seeing what they had done. A dog with a bone had nothing on me :). (I recommend you get the DVD if you haven’t yet seen it.)
Previously I had made contact and arranged to meet this inspiring woman, the retired headmistress of Whitwell Middle School. The emergency open heart surgery that I endured just prior to our departure to the USA to our children and 5 grandchildren, did not change this part of our trip in any way: Once one gets through the life and death stage of major surgery, how we live, or even survive after that, is our own choice and entirely up to us! Exist or live… I choose living to the fullest… always. I still have a very long bucket list.
In a marvellously innovative way, as very few people, in Tennessee (or anywhere really, in Middle America), know/knew much about the Holocaust. Principal Hooper wanted to start a project that would teach the students about the importance of tolerating and respecting different cultures. In 1998, struggling to grasp the concept of six million Holocaust victims, the students, supervised by two teachers, David Smith an 8th grade History teacher and Sandra Roberts, the 8th grade Language Arts teacher, began the mammoth task of collecting six million paper clips from every state in the USA and all of the 7 continents.
The day after our road trip from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta, we set out on another 3 hour, 150 mile road trip: from Atlanta, Georgia, to Tennessee, to the little town of Whitwell (near-ish Chattanooga) and the Children’s Holocaust Memorial. The goal at the start of the project, (almost 15 years ago), was to collect 6 million paper clips from around the world. But within a couple of years, they had collected 11 million. The extra 5 million clips serve to memorialise and honour all non-Jews: Gypsies, Gays and more.
Linda Hooper is still very much involved and presents talks at schools, seminars and educational conferences on teaching this exceptionally traumatic and heartbreaking subject to children and adults. She showed us around the library and then took us into the authentic German rail-road boxcar, a donation from a German couple – White House correspondents for a German newspaper. This car houses all 11 million paperclips, which are encased in glass with Jewish memorabilia and collections donated from people around the world, including the suitcase that Anne Frank used, containing 100’s of letters sent to her by German children [to apologise].
They have also created a museum type library with masses of information and memorabilia, Jewish artifacts, including a Torah, which originally came from a South African Shul (Synagogue); donated by Harry Amoils who now lives in Toronto. It also houses files containing 1000’s of hate mail which has been sent to this school, [still] denying the Holocaust ever happened and expressing their ugly thoughts on what they think Jews are and were.
The project and subsequent Memorial, has created a tremendous learning experience for this population, who never knew about the Holocaust. To this day, in their whole county, they [still] have never had a Jewish family live there, or had a Jewish child at any of the schools. The Project is of course an ongoing one and hopefully they can and will, continue to get funding for this magnificent Memorial in perpetuity.
If you’d like to visit the memorial or make a tax-deductible donation, the address is: Whitwell Middle School, Holocaust Project, 1 Butterfly Lane, Whitwell, TN 37397. Phone: +1 423 658-5631 and email: firstname.lastname@example.org (For donations please mark Children’s Holocaust Memorial on your cheque and include your name address – for receipts).