“I believe in the sun when it isn’t shining, I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when He's silent.”
– Found scratched on a wall in a concentration camp.
It''s been said that those who ignore history, are condemned to repeat it. I am living in a very special time. My generation will be the last to live among Holocaust survivors. It is one thing to read about history in a text book; it is quite different to hear history first hand from those who have lived through it. It is my responsibility as a Jew and as a member of the human race to make sure that the Holocaust is never forgotten and is never permitted to happen again. Educating future generations about the terrors of the Holocaust and living each day with a global consciousness will ensure history will not be repeated.
It is very hard to make the Holocaust real to the typical American teenager. Many of us have fortunately never experienced anti-Semitism first hand. We live in an insulated world surrounded by a superior support system of parents, teachers, rabbis, and peers. I am fortunate enough to admit that having a bad day is when the Rangers lose and having a horrible day is when my internet connection is down. I can’t imagine how it would feel to be torn from my home, tortured, thrown into a cattle car, and sent to a concentration camp or, even worse, to watch as my family is murdered just for being Jewish.
I had the opportunity to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC twice, once when I was 10 and then again when I was in the 9th grade. As a ten year old child, I was affected by the exhibits that focused on the children of the Holocaust. When I was older, I was more interested in learning about the political and social climate in Germany that sowed the seeds of anti-Semitism which laid the foundation for the Holocaust. What I was most amazed at was that the civilized world had clear knowledge about what was happening in Europe, and they stood by silently while six million Jews were slaughtered.
While it is a challenge for an American teenager to “Never forget” the atrocities of the Holocaust, it is even more difficult to understand what it means to have six million Jews murdered. A small town in Tennessee tried to understand how much six million really is. The following story is unbelievable in two ways, the first is that it brings to a child’s reality the magnitude of six million, and the second is that it shows that even kids from a small obscure town in America can make a difference in this world.
The story of Paper Clips began in 1998 in Whitwell, Tennessee, a rural community with a population of 2,000 people. The principal of the local middle school wanted to introduce her students to the diversity of the world beyond their small town, and a study of the Holocaust seemed an appropriate way to do that. However, dealing with the Nazi extermination of six million Jews, along with five million gypsies, homosexuals, and other victims became mind boggling. Her students were having a hard time understanding the magnitude of the Holocaust. They never had seen 6 million of anything. The kids decided to collect six million paper clips. Why paper clips? “You needed to make it something you can walk past, something you can touch,” Sandy Roberts, the eighth-grade English teacher explained. Given the size of the school building, Linda Hooper, principal of Whitwell Middle School, told the class that they had to pick something small.
After some research, the students discovered that the paper clip had been invented in Norway and that Norwegians wore the common place objects in their lapels as a sign of resistance during the Nazi occupation. Word quickly spread about the Paper Clips project and people and communities from across the country and the world sent paper clips to the students at the Whitwell Middle School. In the course of two years, over 16 million paper clips were collected. This project not only educated the 400, mostly Christian, students from Tennessee about the Holocaust but also had a world wide impact.
Paper Clips show how the project to honor the victims of Hitler’s death camps changed the Whitwell students in profound and unforgettable ways. Hooper said that the paper clips would be turned into a memorial, “a final resting place for those who have nobody to remember them.”
Can the Holocaust happen again? As much as I want to believe it can’t, I know that given the right set of circumstances, it could. Hatred still exists in the world. Ethnic cleansing and Genocide have taken place in Bosnia and Rwanda during the last decade. France has experienced many episodes of anti-Semitism recently. We, as Jews and human beings, need to aggressively combat prejudice as it happens, not just against Jews, but against all ethnic groups. The Holocaust was allowed to transpire due to active anti-Semitism as well as a more subtle form of “passive” anti-Semitism. The world stood by silently as the Jews of Europe were murdered. America was not killing Jews, but they made no attempt to stop the Germans until most of the Jews in Europe were murdered.
My challenge as a Jew and an American is to pass on to my children the knowledge that prejudice towards any group of people because of their ethnicity or religious belief is wrong. But words alone cannot convey the importance of this message. My actions will have much more of an impact. Commemorating Yom Hashoah, visiting and supporting Holocaust memorials and museums, will be a reminder of the historical events leading up to the Holocaust along with the specifics of the atrocities that were committed against the Jews of Europe. Above all, my behavior and attitude towards people of other racial and ethnic groups will send a clear message to my children that all people deserve respect.
The Holocaust for me is very personal. While six million is a number that is hard to grasp, the number one is not. I am named after my uncle who was murdered in the Holocaust. He never made it to the concentration camps. He was a child of about ten, and the Germans had no need for him. He was an innocent child whose only crime was being Jewish. I am lucky in the sense that I have a concrete connection to the Holocaust in my uncle as well as in my grandfather who is a survivor. My challenge and the challenge of my generation is to make the Holocaust real to the next generation.
1. Davis, Kieth. "Film on
American Middle Schoolers'' Commemoration of Holocaust Victims will be
Screened at Ithaca College." Ithaca College News Release 17 Feb. 2006,
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