A candlelighting service commemorating the 6 million people who lost their lives during the Holocaust is scheduled Wednesday at the Jewish Cultural Center. Wednesday is Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day.
A local Holocaust survivor, family members of survivors and leaders from the Jewish community will light candles and speak as part of the event. Then Alison Lebovitz, founder of local social-services nonprofit One Clip at a Time, will introduce a conversation about the Paper Clips Project with Linda Hooper and current and former Whitwell Middle School students.
In 1998, Hooper, then principal of Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, Tennessee, asked Assistant Principal David Smith to find a voluntary after-school project to teach the children about tolerance. Smith and Sandra Roberts started a Holocaust education program and held the first class in the fall of 1998. Soon the students were overwhelmed with the massive scale of the Holocaust and asked Hooper if they could collect something to represent the lives that were exterminated during the Holocaust. Hooper suggested that it be something that related to the Holocaust or to World War II.
Through internet research, the students discovered that Johan Vaaler, a Norwegian, designed a rectangular loop of metal that Norwegians wore on their lapels during World War II as a silent protest against Nazi occupation. The students decided to collect 6 million paper clips to represent the estimated 6 million Jews killed between 1939 and 1945 under the authority of the Nazi government of Adolf Hitler.
Eventually, students involved in the project created a website and sent out letters to friends, family and celebrities. The project began to snowball after it received attention from Peter and Dagmar Schroeder, journalists who were born in Germany during World War II and who covered the White House for German newspapers. They published some articles as well as a book, "Das Büroklammer- Projekt (The Paper Clip Project)," published in September 2000, that promoted the project in Germany. The big break in the U.S. came with an article in The Washington Post on April 7, 2001, written by Dita Smith.
Because of the Paper Clips Project, students in Whitwell have had life-changing experiences. Selected middle school students receive training to become docents for a tour of the library-size collection and the boxcar that once held captives on their way to concentration camps. Whitwell has experienced international tourism as people from all over the world visit the project. In addition, the community as a whole begun to institutionalize an understanding of tolerance and difference.
Yom HaShoah service will begin at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Jewish Cultural Center, 5461 North Terrace. There is no cost to attend. For more information, call 423-493-0270, ext. 13.