Thursday, December 01, 2005

Paper Clips

As long as I’m on the subject of HBO, I just watched a documentary that was featured on HBO on Demand under the Documentaries section. It was a fascinating look at a small school in Whitwell, Tennessee that takes a look at what the children of the mostly white, protestant children were learning about diversity, mainly nothing. The principle of the school decides that the best way to teach diversity in this small isolated town is to teach them about the Holocaust. During the class, one of the children mentions that he doesn’t know what six million looks like, the number of Jews murdered. They decide that they will try to collect six million paperclips to memorialize the deaths and to bring the sheer magnitude of that number to reality.

Things go very slow at first but then when they attract the attention of some journalists who publicize their endeavor, the paperclips start coming in by the thousands. Many famous people send them paperclips including Tom Bosley who send one. Some people sent boxes of thousands other sent a few to memorialize relatives and friends who had died during the holocaust. In one very touching instance, a group of German children sent an old suitcase with paperclips attached to the inside, each one with a note written in German. There were translations on them and each little note and paperclip was an apology to Ann Frank. Most of them started, “Dear Ann.”

Though extremely moving, the most inspirational and tear invoking moment is when a group of holocaust survivors comes to the small town to tell their stories. I will not repeat them here because the pure emotion cannot be translated by me. You have to hear it from the people themselves as they tell of relatives lost. It is clear that the children of this town found inspiration in project as well as the teachers and some of the parents and relatives of the students. All became involved as more and more paperclips poured through the local Post Office that became so overwhelmed that the school administrators had to make special trips to pick up the ever-increasing deliveries. In all, they collected 30 million paperclips! More importantly they counted every one of them.

Why paper clips? I thought the same thing. At first it seemed a logical choice because 6 million of anything would prove to be too big to hold. There is another reason though and the reason is almost as touching as anything else in the story. During World War Two Norwegians wore paper clips on their collars to show their solidarity to the Jewish plight. Any overt form of protest would result in arrest so they chose this small gesture. Who knew that many years later the paper clips would again come to represent a small community’s effort to identify with the Jewish people’s horror.

I would recommend this film to anyone wanting to see a touching story that will not only explore more of the Holocaust’s effects and helps to break down prejudice against Jews but in a very real way (and this is pointed out in the film) helps to destroy the stereotype of Southerners. Another irony that was pointed out in the film by a Washington Post reporter who researched the story was that the town of Whitwell was very close to where the “Scopes Monkey Trial” took place and close to the place where the KKK was formed.


melly said...

Hi Lon,
I haven't seen the movie but heard about it from people who have. I think it's a fascinating story and the irony is strong.
The problem is that I don't know how accesible the movie is. It was showing here in th Toronto Jewish Film Festival, but I haven't seen it showing in a regular theatre.

ObilonKenobi said...

It probably wasn't shown in many places in regular theaters. Being a documentary it wouldn't get a wide release. I suggest HBO on Demand or if you don't have that check the rental places. It's worth the look if you are interested in that sort of thing. Being Jewish, it touched me that people who I'd never identify with having sympathy for the Halocaust victums came to invest so much time and resources to this. I applaud the scoll and the children.

One thing that I didn't mention in my post but I thought was a very important point made by one of the halocaust survivors is that very soon, there will be no living survivors of the halocaust. When they are all gone the only way people will experience this is from books. When the last of the survivors dies the memory of what happened should not die with them.

The Phoenix said...

Whoa...that sounds unbelievable. What an ingenius idea for a memorial.

The generation involved with WWII is getting smaller and smaller. Soon, no one will be left to tell their stories.

That's why it's so important to listen to them, while they're still living.

KC said...

I just saw this on HBO last week. Absolutely amazing story. I cried and cried through almost the whole documentary. What an amazing project!

ObilonKenobi said...

Yes. I got a little teary-eyed myself.

Neil said...

Never heard of this film before, but it seems like a great find. thanks.