By: Valario Johnson
How much is 11 million? That was one question posed by a middle school student of Whitwell Middle School in Tennessee during the class’s study of World War II-era Europe.
What began 10 years ago as a lesson concerning the Holocaust for a group of middle school students grew into a massive undertaking to collect 11 million paper clips, each one representing the lives of those lost in the tragic events throughout the 1940s. Of the 11 million, six million were Jews and five million were Gypsies, Catholics, homosexuals and other persecuted groups.
Sandra Roberts, the primary teacher involved in what would become known as the Paper Clips Project, held a series of lectures both at Troy University and the Johnson Center for the Arts with the aim of not only discussing the project, but also educating both the young and elderly alike about the importance of tolerance and understanding.
The decision was made to use paper clips because Norwegian soldiers wore paper clips during World War II to show their open disapproval of Hitler’s regime.
That silent act of protest has turned into something much larger, affecting nearly every state and dozens of countries worldwide.
National news coverage, including the Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, led to an influx of paper clips. Since then, the group has collected 33 million paper clips.
Dr. Maryjo Cochran, dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts,
said that the Paper Clips Project was not only a meaningful and worthwhile venture, but also a rather novel take on an old idea—an idea fueled by remembering the lost.
“Instead of having something that honored the people who died—a lot of museums do that—their whole concept was that the 11 million paper clips would represent the 11 million souls who lived—people who were doctors, teacher, aunts, and uncles… they all had faces. They all had a purpose and they all could’ve contributed to the world, but they weren’t given the opportunity.”
Another facet of the movement to remember the Holocaust involves a new exhibit at the Troy-Pike Cultural Arts Center, titled “Darkness Into Life: Alabama Holocaust Survivors Through Photography and Art.”
The exhibit comes from the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, and it features stories of 20 Alabama Holocaust survivors and the effect it had on their families.
Alongside a variety of photos and paintings are letters that narrate those stories in detail, and an introductory 55-minute video featuring the survivors and artists that discuss their experiences.
The entire exhibit is a somber, yet brilliant way to bring the scope of the Holocaust home, quite literally.
The exhibit is free to the general public and will be on display at the Troy Pike Cultural Arts Center throughout January until February 23.
Also in the works is a film series to be held in Patterson Hall starting next Tuesday, with a viewing of “The Pianist” at 7 p.m. “Pan’s Labryinth,” “Sara’s Key,” “Schindler’s List” and “The Grey Zone” are set to follow.