Friday, July 15, 2011

From Paper Clips to Butterflies

After reading Nancy’s blog containing a video outlining the history of paperclips, I began to write a comment about making insects out of paperclips at our family camp-out. I changed my mind, when thinking about paperclips led me to remember a TV documentary about paperclips -- and a small book I purchased during an elementary school book sale during the mid-90s.

In 1998 a group of 8th-graders from Tennessee who were learning about the Holocaust and discussing tolerance, began a project to collect paperclips – one for every person who was exterminated during the Holocaust. Although off to a slow start, the simple project eventually gained worldwide attention. At last count, over 30 million paper clips had been received. In 2004, Paper Clips, the award-winning documentary film about the project, was released by Miramax Films.

The students chose paperclips to represent the lives of those exterminated after discovering that Norwegians wore paperclips on their lapels during World War II as a silent protest against Nazi occupation.

Today, thousands visit the Children’s Holocaust Memorial built as a result of the Paperclip Project. It consists of an authentic German transport car filled with 11 million paper clips (6 million for murdered Jews and 5 million for Gypsies, Catholics, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and other groups). The monument was uncovered on the anniversary of the Kristallnacht, November 9, 2001 on the campus of Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, Tennessee. Learn more about this project at

The car is surrounded by a small garden in which eighteen butterflies sculpted of twisted copper are embedded in concrete. The idea for the butterflies came from a poem, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly”, which appeared in a book of poems and drawings produced by children and young adults held in Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944 -- the little book I was drawn to purchase many years ago.

The Butterfly
by Pavel Friedman 4.6.1942

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun's tears
would sing against a white stone. . . .
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly 'way up high.
It went away I'm sure
because it wished to kiss the world good-bye.

For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live in here,
in the ghetto.

Pavel Friedman died in Auschwitz on Sept. 24, 1944, age 24.

Only 100 of the 15,000 children under the age of fifteen who passed through Terezin, survived. But in 1955 a suitcase full of their poems and drawings was found and restored. Since that time, the words of those innocent children and young adults have been read by millions of people.

I am a Jew
by Franta Bass

I am a Jew and will be a Jew forever.
Even if I should die from hunger,
never will I submit.
I will always fight for my people,
on my honor.
I will never be ashamed of them;
I give my word.

I am proud of my people,
how dignified they are.
Even though I am oppressed,
I will always come back to life.

Franta Bass died at Auschwitz on Oct. 28, 1944, at the age of 14.

Thank you Nancy, for getting me to think.

Elizabeth recently wrote, "Sometimes our most cherished stories and inspirations come from an early morning walk behind a sweet old church."

...or they may arise from a simple paperclip,
...or perhaps a yellow butterfly.

I Never Saw Another Butterfly, edited by Hana Volavkova; revised and expanded by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. New York: Schocken Books, Inc. 1993; can be purchased on Amazon.

We write to make suffering endurable, evil intelligible,
justice desirable, and love possible.

- Roger Rosenblatt, novelist and journalist

1 comment:

elizabethbrinton said...

Well, I am deeply moved. Our lives get so caught up in the mundane and we tend to forget.
Without the great stories of the holocaust, it would have been quickly buried and hushed up. We must never forget.