— by Bonnie Squires
The award-winning documentary, Paper Clips, was shown Sunday, at Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, and Sandra Roberts, the eighth-grade teacher from Whitwell, Tennessee, who supervises the project, spoke to several hundred Har Zion Hebrew High School students, parents, friends and community members. Seen here welcoming Ms. Roberts are (left to right) student Seth Selarnick, his mother Nancy Selarnick, both of Penn Valley; Ms. Roberts; and Norman Einhorn, co-principal of Har Zion’s Hebrew High School.
Ms. Roberts was asked by her principal in the late 1990s to create an after-school project to each tolerance and understanding, particularly in light of the lack of diversity in their small-town middle school. When Roberts learned that her students just could not fathom what 6 million would be, in studying the Holocaust and the extermination of Jewish communities in Europe, she challenged them to come up with a collection of 6 million somethings so they could touch and feel the enormity.
The students did research and learned that Norwegians wore paper clips on their collars during Wolrd War II as a way of showing quiet sympathy for the Jews who were perishing in concentration camps. So Whitwell students began writing letters to famous people, journalists, companies, asking everyone to donate a paper clip in memory of someone lost in the Holocaust.
The Holocaust Project mushroomed, and an article in the Washington Post really helped launched the project. The film, which was done about ten years ago, criss-crosses the country, raising awareness and teaching students and their families to work to stamp out prejudice.