Whitwell, Tennessee is rural, blue-collar and largely homogenous (97% White) making it an unlikely setting for one of the most powerful documentaries on teaching tolerance and respect that I have ever seen.
Paper Clips is a 2004 documentary film which f focuses on a middle school class project which sought to collect one paper clip to represent each human life lost in the Holocaust. The paper clip was selected because Norwegians wore them to represent their resistance against Nazi occupation during World War II.
The work of these young people resulted in (SPOILER ALERT! Don’t read if you intend to watch the film):
- Over 30 million paperclips collected from more than 20 countries. George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks all donated.
- Most paperclips came to the school children accompanied with a story or dedication to a specific person lost in the Holocaust.
- The creation of the Children’s Holocaust Memorial at Whitwell Middle School, featuring an authentic German railcar (donated) filled with 11 million paperclips (6 million representing Jewish lives lost, and 5 million for other groups such as Catholics, homosexuals, and Roma populations).
- A suitcase full of apology letters from German children dedicated to Anne Frank.
Groups can participate in student-led tours of the Children’s Holocaust Museum at Whitwell Middle School today. More information at: Children’s Holocaust Museum
You may rent the film from Amazon.com for $1.99 at: Paper Clips Movie .
I have previously used this film as a conversation starter with older youths regarding Civic Engagement and Service Learning. It is often an eye opener for other youth to see the large impact such a seemingly simple project can have when conducted with unparalleled dedication.
If you’d like to use the film similarly in your 4-H program, please check out the following lesson plans and teaching guides.
These materials are not officially approved 4-H curricula, but I believe you will find much valuable information that can be presented in an experiential and 4-H appropriate manner.