I learned about the following event while watching the Documentary Channel last night. The movie I watched is Paper Clips and it tells the story that began in 1998 at Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, Tennessee with an unusual project. This project began as a way to teach eighth grade students about prejudice and tolerance.
Two teachers and a principal began teaching these students about the Holocaust against Jews, some Christians, and others during the reign of Adolf Hitler in Germany in the 1930’s – 40’s. When discussing the Holocaust, one child asked what 6,000,000 looked like. 6,000,000 is the number of Jews killed by Hitler’s regime during this time dark time in the history of the world and Germany in particular. The principal admitted she had no visual concept of such a number either. The students asked if they could find some way to visualize six million. After some research the students learned that the Norwegians wore paper clips on their lapels as a sign of resistance to German Occupation and in solidarity for the Jews suffering under the Nazis. The students began writing letters asking for paper clips. Soon letters about family members who died in the Holocaust and letters from others began arriving with clips. Before long they had nearly 200,000 clips. After the story broke in a number of news papers and on NBC things got crazy at Whitwell Middle. At one time they had nearly 30,000,000 paper clips. They were also able to locate and obtain a cattle railcar from Germany that was one of the cars that carried Jews to the concentration camps. That car now is a museum in Whitwell and contains 11,000,000 paper clips. Six million for the Jews and five million for the other groups put to death in these camps.
Prejudice and intolerance. I wish I could say that these are words that the dictionary no longer needs to include, but that would be naive. Such ideas and actions still exist in our world. We still see racial inequality, we still judge people based on education, color, dialect, whether they live in the city, country, north south, east or west, and what they are religiously or non-religiously for that matter. We still lack tolerance for those we prejudge to be different. If any group should lead in the effort to abandon prejudice it should be Christians. After all do we not learn from God that we should look at the heart of a person and not his outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7)? Jas reminds his readers, “My brothers,show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (Jas 2:1-4).
Let us be very careful that we get to know people as individuals and to treat them as we would want others to treat us.
To learn more about The Paper Clip Project you can watch the 2004 documentary Paper Clips on Netflix or check out this book, Six Million Paper Clips: The Making of A Children’s Holocaust Memorial by Peter W. Schroeder/Dagmar Schroeder-Hildebrand, Kar-Ben Publishing, Minneapolis, MN, 2004 ISBN 1580131697