WASHINGTON — “Paper Clips,” a new documentary film chronicling Tennessee schoolchildren’s efforts to memorialize the Holocaust, has secured a thumbs-up from two high-profile viewers: President Bush and his wife, Laura.
The film was screened at the White House on February 19, just hours before Bush left for his trip to Europe. It chronicles the story of eighth graders who set out to collect 6 million paper clips — one for each Holocaust victim.
The movie was recommended to White House staffers by the Anti-Defamation League, which plans to develop a Holocaust education curriculum linked to the film once its commercial run has ended.
“I talked to some friends, some close to the White House, close to the president, and said: ‘Why don’t you see this,’” ADL Director Abraham Foxman told the Forward. Foxman said that the White House had received similar suggestions from others.
The president and the first lady watched the film, along with several staffers.
White House spokeswoman Maria Tamburri told the Forward: “The president and the first lady enjoyed the movie” and “were touched by the story and by how the teacher and the students commemorated the lives lost in the Holocaust.”
Foxman said that the movie is particularly important because it demonstrates “how the Holocaust can be relevant today, even in middle-America.” Many people, he said, think “that 60 years later it has no relevance, it doesn’t reach people and doesn’t touch people, yet here is a community that had not one Jew and reached out to better understand history, and was so extraordinarily moved that its experience has now become a catalyst to teach others about the lessons of the Holocaust.”
The project started after eighth graders at the local middle school in Whitwell — population 1,500 — learned that during World War II, the Norwegians wore paper clips in their lapels as a silent gesture of solidarity with the Nazis’ victims. One student came up with the idea of gathering 6 million paper clips to illustrate the enormity of the loss of Jewish lives in the Holocaust.
After the national media covered the story, the students were deluged with 29 million paper clips. Their project was boosted further when two German reporters who covered the story arranged for a railcar, used to transport Jews to the concentration camps, to be shipped to Whitwell for display as a memorial.
Eleven million paper clips were put inside the railcar to commemorate the Nazis’ noncombatant victims, who included Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals.