How many is six million?
That question baffled the minds of a class of eighth graders in the town of Whitwell, Tennessee, population 1,600. It was raised when the students embarked on a project concerning the Holocaust and the enormity of evil unchecked, which resulted in the extermination of six million Jews, along with five and half million others.
The children's project is covered in the moving, but deceptively simple documentary, "Paper Clips." In it, Whitwell students set a goal of collecting six million of the seemingly insignificant items and end up with 25 million, sent from sympathetic donors, including the likes of Steven Spielberg. Tom Bosley, Tom Hanks and President George W. Bush. Directed by Elliot Berlin and Joe Fab, the film begins modestly with the children from the all Protestant community appearing somewhat perplexed by the concept of Hitler's final solution and his passionate hatred of the Jewish people. The movie's emotional intensity heightens when the school is visited by a group of Holocaust survivors from Long Island. When one man cries merely from the thought of happiness, the children are bought to tears. Another survivor, Sam Sitko of Woodmere, tells of his arrival at a concentration camp as a boy, only to be shown the whereabouts of his mother and two brothers when a guard points to plumes of black smoke rising from a crematorium.
The paper clips take on enormous meaning when it is revealed that many appeared with notes describing individuals who perished in the death camps. "Each of the six million clips represents the soul of a victim," we're told.
During the three-year course of the project, Assistant Principal David Smith says that he found himself examining his own prejudices. That reawakening carries through to the students, other faculty members and townspeople, while radiating out to the audience.
The project culminates when the students miraculously manage to have an actual German railway car shipped to their school...a car that once transported Jewish children to the death camps. The more than 11 million clips are put on display in the railway car, which becomes Whitwell's Holocaust Memorial. Says one school member, "The souls have finally come to rest in the vehicle that once meant death."Go see "Paper Clips." It's an important film showing how children can re-awaken the world about something that must not be forgotten.