The Charity

The Paperclip Project

In 1998, something amazing happened in the town of Whitwell, a small rural community of fewer than 2,000 people nestled in the mountains of Tennessee. In 1998 eighth-grade students at Whitwell Middle School began an after-school study of the Holocaust.


The goal of this study was to teach students the importance of respecting different cultures as well as understanding the effects of intolerance. As the study progressed, the sheer number of Jews who were exterminated by the Nazis overwhelmed the students. Six million was a number that the students could not remotely grasp.

Whitwell Middle School Children’s Holocaust Memorial

6,000,000 was a number that the students could not remotely grasp. They asked Sandra Roberts and David Smith if they could collect something to help them understand the enormity of this extermination. The teachers told the students to ask permission of principal Linda M. Hooper. She gave the students permission to begin a collection IF they could find something to collect that would have meaning to the project. After some research on the internet, the students decided to collect paper clips because they discovered that 1) Joseph Valler, a Norwegian Jew, is credited with inventing the paper clip and 2) that Norwegians wore them on their lapels as a silent protest against Nazi occupation in WWII. The goal was 6 million paper clips –one for each soul who perished.

This simple idea eventually, and quite unintentionally, turned into a worldwide phenomenon, drawing international media attention and letters of support from literally every continent. To date the “Paper Clip” project has collected over 30 million paper clips which have been sent to Whitwell Middle School; a majority have been delivered with letters, documents, books and artifacts telling stories of family members – both fond memories as well as the horrors of what they endured. All of these have been cataloged and documented by students and, along with the paper clips, have become part of the Children’s Holocaust Research Room at the school. Many of these paper clips are housed in an authentic German railcar, which was actually used to transport people to the death camps. This railcar landed in Whitwell in 2001 as a result of the effort of a couple of German reporters who picked up the story and located the car. This railcar is the centerpiece of The Children’s Holocaust Memorial. A moving documentary, entitled Paper Clips, originally released theatrically in 2004, captures how these students responded to lessons about the Holocaust and how a committed group of children and educators provided hope and inspiration to countless others around the globe.

Why Whitwell?

The 2006 JMA Ride to Remember went to Whitwell. To date, this event was one of the largest R2R’s and drew almost 500 attendees on bikes, in cars and in buses. Not only was it one of the best attended, but to most who went, it was an experience whose impression will last a lifetime. The entrance to the parking lot of the Whitwell Middle School led the JMA group right past the rail car that transported our brethren to the concentration camps. It is doubtful that anyone escaped the chills that ran up and down your spine at that sight. It would be hard to think of a better example of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive than through middle schoolers who act as the museum’s curators and train new students to conduct tours of the museum. The year 2021 marks the 20th Anniversary of the dedication of the railcar and the museum. The school has since moved to a different location and the railcar with it. However, the museum needs a permanent structure. It is currently in the planning stages, but funds are needed to make this happen. It is for this purpose that any funds raised will be used. Having a permanent structure to house over 20 years of Holocaust remembrances will make sure that this project continues to educate people about the Holocaust and make sure that we can still say “Never Again!”