Monday, June 18, 2007
This weekend my family had a reunion in the middle of the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. Not only did he drive us to Gatlinburg, he went further helping me fulfill a dream to see a little memorial in an incredibly small town. Why am I crazy enough to have my husband drive down the entire length of the state of Tennessee the day after he drove down the length of the state of Virginia? To witness a little piece of hope.
By now, many people of heard of the Paperclip Project. You may not remember off-hand that you have heard of it, but you probably have. This was a school project started by the students and the teachers in a small middle school in Whitwell, TN to help the student visualize what 6 million means. You see, these students were part of an incredible enrichment program at their school. They were being taught tolerance and diversity by learning about the Holocaust, and they still are.
I first heard about the project in 2000 or 2001. I know I was unemployed at the time because I only watch the Today Show when I am unemployed and that's where I first learned about Whitwell. As a former teacher of the Holocaust, I wanted to help. The best way I knew to help was to give them books - class sets of books - to help teach more than just Anne Frank and "Night." I sent my first set of books that year and have tried to send books every year since then. Each year I have spoken to Mrs. Janice Hooper or Mrs. Linda Hooper (librarian and principal respectively) to find out what the school needs and I try to send a box before school starts. I have truly enjoyed being able to help this way and I hope to be able to do more in the years to come.
So, why a visit to a town so small that main street has moved to the highway? Over the years the students have done more than collect over 26 million paperclips. These students have touched so many people and have made so many people think about the Holocaust and remember the victims of hatred and they have done it one giant leap at a time. Their paperclips have turned into a beautiful memorial, probably the most beautiful I have ever seen, to the 1.5 million children who lost their lives during the Holocaust.
The memorial is a garden lovingly maintained by members of the school and town. In this garden are butterflies - wire butterflies, mosaic butterflies, sculpted butterflies - a sculpture holding 11 million paperclips and a rail car on rails from the 1940s. This car is one that was used to transport so many people from their homes to the concentration camps and for children, this was a trip to certain death. The rail car is now home to 11 million paperclips as well as letters, a mezzuzah with the Kaddish (Jewish prayer for mourning) and a suitcase filled with letters of apology from German students to Anne Frank and her family.
While the rail car is the centerpiece for the garden, I feel it is the butterflies that are most important. These beautiful butterflies bring a sense of hope to the garden, hope that these children in a small town in Tennessee can help the world remember 1.5 million children and their families who died at the hands of hatred.
For allowing me to witness this beauty, my husband is a saint.