Until recently, the riveting and much-acclaimed 2004 documentary, "Paper Clips" -- which chronicles the attempt by the small, rural town of Whitwell, Tenn., to educate its students about the enormous number of Jews killed in the Holocaust -- could be seen mostly at special screenings and community events. After an initial exclusive release of the DVD version to Blockbuster, as of March 7, the DVD has gone into general release so everyone can finally get a copy, which is sure to broaden the film's exposure. And there's also the book, "Six Million Paper Clips: The Making of a Children's Holocaust Memorial," by German journalists Peter W. Schroeder and Dagmar Schroeder-Hildebrand, who played an instrumental role in helping the film succeed.
The book and the film were the focus of a recent gathering at the Museum of Tolerance's Peltz Theatre, which featured a screening and a Q & A session with the writers and Miramax producer Matthew Hiltzik.
"Our 94-year-old friend, Lena Gitter, found out about the 'Paper Clips' project on the Internet," Schroeder-Hildebrand explained during the talk following the screening. When the journalists learned of the project, they pitched in by sending letters to their press contacts, authoring nine articles about the project for a German newspaper and subsequently writing a book. Due to their efforts, the students' collection went from 160,000 to more than 22 million.
A spirit of collaboration marked the filming process as well.
"So many people wanted to give of themselves to this project. The beauty was in the simplicity and letting it speak for itself ... it shows what people can do together," Hiltzik said.
"It's unbelievable how many people were involved," Schroeder-Hildebrand added.
By the project's end, the children just needed to find a place to house the clips, as a memorial to the victims. The journalists volunteered to locate an authentic German railway car that had transported Jews to the gas chambers, so the children could transform it into a monument of hope.
"As Germans, did you find yourselves coming up to walls of prejudice?" one audience member asked.
"We encountered some resistance," Peter Schroeder answered. "The German newspaper we write for grumbled that we were taking too much time off."
In their book, the authors recount other hostile reactions, among them: "Another Holocaust memorial? It's time to forget what happened 60 years ago." Others, however, responded with good will. Finally, the pair found car No. 011-993 and raised the funds to bring it to Whitwell.
Elana Samuels, an assistant director at the Museum of Tolerance, praised the film for its message of tolerance and its positive portrayal of educators.
"Good teaching needs motivated educators ... not necessarily with all the information, but with the desire to get it."
She said this event meant a lot to the museum because it "brings history to life ... it shows the beauty of interchange, of intergenerational dialogue."
"Showing the film in Tennessee for the first time, I was the only Jew there," Hiltzik said. "But a lady came over to me and said she's also an outsider -- because she was from Mississippi! I went to the cattle car, and putting on my tefillin there and knowing the circumstances ... you did feel the souls."
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