The education I received about the Holocaust in my high school years probably filled three minutes, if that. I imagine my history teachers thought something along the lines of: here are the facts, the numbers, the condensed ideology behind it, and beyond that…coming to grips with what the Holocaust actually was…was simply too enormous to even grasp. And maybe they thought it was a deep and dark subject for young people, there’s so much history to cover, let’s keep moving.
This summer, I remember that Av told the boys that some “bad people had done something bad” in a place that is important to us, and we were going to send cards. I privately asked him why he had told the boys that there were “bad people” that did something bad? I mean, they’re just 6 and 7 — can I just keep them thinking that the world is a nice place where nice things happen and we’re all nice to each other? They have a lifetime to learn about…the other stuff. I know, I’m protective. But why do little kids need to know anything else while they’re little? They don’t.
Here, behind the school is an authentic German boxcar built in 1917 which served to transport prisoners to camps during the reign of the Third Reich. How the railcar came here to Tennessee is here.
Much of the rest of the story is pretty well known. After getting the word out, the students were sent more than six million paperclips from all over the world, and to date, the number is now over 30 million. They’ve received over 30,000 other pieces — letters, documents — and those are in the Children’s Holocaust Memorial Research Room at the school.
As the school puts it, “For generations of Whitwell students, a paper clip will never again be just a paper clip. Instead, the paper clip is a reminder of the importance of perseverance, empathy, tolerance, and understanding.”