One Clip at a Time

The Covington News - - LOOKING BACK - COLUM­NIST Terri Kim­ble Fuller­ton is a New­ton County 4-H Agent through UGA Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion. She can be reached at tkim­

“You just want to teach a lit­tle les­son,” said re­tired prin­ci­pal Linda Hooper, and then you wake up one day and there is a movie about your school on Net­flix.

I watched that doc­u­men­tary sev­eral years ago and fi­nally made it to Whitwell, Ten­nessee, last sum­mer to see the Chil­dren’s Holo­caust Me­mo­rial.

In a lit­tle town about 45 min­utes out­side of Chat­tanooga, a few teach­ers worked to­gether to teach lessons on tol­er­ance through a study of the Holo­caust.

They read a novel, wrote es­says and stud­ied the his­tory of the Holo­caust and World War II.

And then one day a stu­dent asked what six mil­lion people looked like.

Cov­ing­ton is a good bit big­ger than Whitwell, but that ques­tion also res­onated with me—what does six mil­lion people look like?

There are only 100,000 to 110,000 people in our en­tire county.

As part of the Holo­caust study, stu­dents learned that Nor­we­gians wore pa­per­clips in sol­i­dar­ity with the Jewish people dur­ing World War II.

So, the stu­dents de­cided to col­lect six mil­lion pa­per­clips. They wrote letters to politi­cians, celebri­ties and sport­ing teams.

As letters and pa­per­clips trick­led in, they care­fully recorded each writer’s in­for­ma­tion and or­ga­nized the letters into binders.

Pa­per­clips were care­fully counted and stored.

Some of those letters are so in­cred­i­bly mov­ing — letters like that of Henry Win­kler, bet­ter known by many as “the Fonz.” He told the stu­dents how his par­ents es­caped Nazi Ger­many, but that he grew up with­out grand­par­ents, aunts or un­cles be­cause they did not es­cape in time. He sent pa­per­clips in their mem­ory. So many of the pa­per­clips in the collection came in one by one, each in mem­ory of a friend or fam­ily mem­ber lost.

Some­where along the way, two White House cor­re­spon­dents from Ger­many picked up on the story. One story turned into an­other con­nec­tion, which turned into a big­ger story… and be­fore you knew it Whitwell Mid­dle School was on the na- tional news scene.

Pa­per­clips poured into the school in such large quan­ti­ties the post of­fice told the school they’d have to col­lect their own mail.

The prin­ci­pal said ev­ery­one in town was help­ing to count pa­per­clips by this time, of­ten in the wee hours of the morn­ing.

And as the project grew far be­yond any­thing ever imag­ined, so did the les­son.

A film crew showed up to film a doc­u­men­tary about the project.

Holo­caust sur­vivors vis­ited Whitwell to speak to the com­mu­nity and school about their ex­pe­ri­ences.

This part of the doc­u­men­tary re­minded me of Mr. Gross, who spoke to us at Cousins Mid­dle School. I can’t tell you any­thing he said that day, but I have al­ways re­mem­bered his tat­too. It was the same color green as my own grand­fa­ther’s WWII era tat­toos, but it was just a sim­ple num­ber.

A sim­ple num­ber that made the Holo­caust real to me as a mid­dle school stu­dent.

As those who lived through that time dis­ap­pear, what will bring this pe­riod of his­tory to life for new gen­er­a­tions? And so the Whitwell stu­dents con­tin­ued their project.

Twenty mil­lion pa­per­clips flooded into town. Even­tu­ally, the town ob­tained an ac­tual rail­car used in the Holo­caust in which to store the pa­per­clips.

But by this point, the stu­dents re­al­ized it wasn’t just 6 mil­lion Jews who died in the Holo­caust.

Eleven mil­lion people were killed in the Holo­caust — six mil­lion Jewish people as well as five mil­lion ho­mo­sex­u­als, Gyp­sies and po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers. How did I never re­al­ize that? This school set out to teach “a lit­tle les­son” to their stu­dents, and to­day is us­ing the movie and cur­ricu­lum to in­spire stu­dents every­where to find their own “one clip at a time” way to learn about the world around them and do some­thing big­ger than them­selves.

Mid­dle and high school 4-H’ers this year in New­ton County will learn more about the project and cre­ate a ser­vice learn­ing project.

If you know some­one lo­cal who might speak on their Holo­caust ex­pe­ri­ence, I would love to hear from you as we em­bark on our own ser­vice learn­ing project.


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